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Maximize Interest In Your Story

PostPosted: 03 Sep 2013, 09:42
by Kellemora
Maximize Interest In Your Story

As writers, we often ask ourselves; "How do I turn a bland scene into an interesting one?" or "What will add spice to a boring, but necessary event in my story?"

We often encounter the second question, when a specific scene must take place; because the action is integral to our plot and required to complete the throughline.

The obvious answer, which is of little help too many of us; is to create a serious or difficult problem for the protagonist to overcome. We shrug our shoulders and say, "Yeah, I understand that much, but how do I achieve that goal?"

Providing an example problem. Then showing the steps taken to arrive at a solution. Provide a better understanding of how to think through difficult situations in your novel.


In our first rough draft, we insert a problem the protagonist must face. However, during a reread, we realize the resolution presented for the situation is ho hum dull, boring almost to tears. Try another approach.

Have no fear, such problems are easy to resolve. Simply remove all expected possibilities, then commit to a probable solution. The easiest way to do this; is begin making a list of all fixed facts regarding the scene. From this list we can think of the most likely possibilities. Then negate each one, as being to simple, or not exciting enough.

What are we doing here? For each escape route developed, we make a statement blocking that conclusion. I do this, by creating a list of "What if's." Then treat it like a logic puzzle. Solve for the unknown element.

For our example, we will place the protagonist in a precarious situation. Then remove every possibility the reader may think of, to prevent making a guess of what may happen. Our goal, to surprise the reader. On how the predicament takes place, or the resolution unfolds.

Before I begin; included at the end of this tutorial, for your perusal; is a copy of the horrible first draft for this section. Example development takes place within a single paragraph, extracted from near the end of this chapter.

The following unedited text contains two paragraphs, quoted from the original work. First, an outline the story is built from, the last line of which is the topic for this tutorial. The second, is the focal paragraph from the first rough draft.

"The graduation exercises behind him, Jerry eagerly stares from his dorm window in anticipation. His father habitually sends a new sports car to each of his children on graduation day. Traditionally, the new car is delivered after the family boards their plane for home. He can show the car off for a couple of days at school, before driving home in time for Friday night dinner. Once home, he spends the weekend showing off his new car to friends."

"Jerry familiarized himself with all the locations and who would be at each one. He loved surprises, and learned on Saturday nights, the friends he missed, socialized along the strip. Before leaving for college, the once popular strip became Deadsville. Pleased to hear it returned to being their favorite hot spots, his excitement soared. Driving the strip never failed to catch every ones attention. Jerry welcomed the completely renovated night spots, with all new super bright lighting. He drove the entire length of the strip several times before stopping at the busiest corner to chat with friends."

Our goal: To render a more appealing and interesting story, as a replacement for the above paragraph.

One way to spice up this novel; develop a serious situation the protagonist must face, and build a whole new ending for this scene. To do this, we will create a problem, then remove each logical solution. Then come up with a final resolution, which keeps the reader turning those pages to find out what happens next.

Our first step: Create The Problem.

Although there are many possibilities to create a unique situation for the protagonist. The one I chose for presentation here, will suffice as a good example. It presents a secondary problem, searching for the ideal scene to make the action work properly.

I often make things hard on myself, by removing most of the probable solutions.
However, by doing so, an interesting story can develop.

Let's create the problem then remove these resolutions by creating a "What if" table.

The table is based on these opening facts.
A boy receives an expensive new sports car as a graduation gift from his father.
He drove the vehicle to the strip, to show off for his friends.

Here,we insert the problem. A fully operational new sports car is unusable by the boy for three full days. Why?

Now, we will create possible problems and promptly negate the resolutions, by showing why.
In example number one, the problem, no insurance, is resolved by the response.

What if:
1) The car is fully insured and has all necessary licenses.
2) The car is legally road worthy, and the driver properly licensed.
3) The vehicle is undamaged and in perfect running order.
4) No mechanical or electrical failures prevent its usage.
5) It is not locked away in a repair shop, service garage or impounded.
6) Nor in a multi-story, closed parking garage, with a broken car elevator.
7) The boy is not grounded or incapacitated, nor otherwise unable to drive a vehicle.
8) The boy can look at his car, touch his car, sit in the seat, and start the motor.
9) He is not in any trouble with the law, nor was he drinking.

Now for the challenge:
A reader may come up with any one of the above as the possible reason.
Now let's add an amazing reason why the boy cannot drive the car.

What circumstances can you come up with, that meet all the above criteria?

I came up with a few, but need to visualize the proper setting first.

Rather than skipping forward to the selected scene. You may benefit from seeing how I arrived at the solution to the logic puzzle.

For my visual, my first thoughts were to use an area, similar in scope to the old Gaslight Square in St. Louis.
Gaslight Square, became known for its many Go-Go Clubs, lining both sides of the strip, in a bygone era.
Unfortunately, I could not come up with a feasible surprise element for this setting to work properly.

Next, I turned to a downtown loft section, similar to Laclede's Landing, also in St. Louis.
Laclede's Landing has many modernized restaurants and night clubs, and in an industrialized area.
At first, this scene appeared to work. So I began rewriting the story, including several necessary details.
Although I came up with a better location, I thought you might like to view this snippet of my first draft.

"Like most visitors to the area, Jerry parked off a side street, facing the empty loading docks. The businesses who owned these, always closed down for the weekend. The only spot he found open, was in an ell with the wall of a food service supplier to his right. At his left, a couple of semi-trailers sat parked, which Jerry thought were cool, as they hid his new car from the main drag. He felt this increased the element of surprise for his friends, since they were unable to spot the car, until they were right there and he hopped in.
At the end of the packaging plant, near the main drag, stood a tall, aging storage tank. This tower was struck by a motorist, knocking a rusted supporting leg out, causing the monolith to topple into the parking lot. This blocked the sports car currently parked between the building and the tractor trailer."

After giving this some thought, the time factor was too short. It would not take three days to dismantle and remove the fallen, empty structure, nor was the scene colorful enough. I needed something a little more upscale and modern to fit with the rest of the book.

The concept met the necessary criteria for my "What Ifs." So I began searching for a modern, élite scene, for this accident to take place. What ultra-modern restaurant or nightclub area contains industrial storage towers? I really liked the toppled tower concept. And needed a location where he and his friends would often hang out?

Based on my last comment alone, you probably figured out an appropriate scene, long before I did!

After choosing an ideal scene, I did not have to alter the rough draft too much, merely change the location and the events that followed.

I selected a posh shopping center for the setting; with a large productive Micro-Brewery Night Club for the actual scene. The micro-brewery owned two shiny stainless steel grain towers. One leg of a tower was hit by an SUV, which caused the grain tower to topple over on its top. The cylinder burst. Spilled grain covered the parking lot and blocked the cars.

In this scenario, before the accident, his friends can view his car from their table. They looked through the windows of the club and made comments about the car, before knowing to whom it belonged. They did not know Jerry was back in town yet, nor did they see him park their earlier. Jerry joins them at the table and engages in the conversation about the fancy new, bright red, 1985 Ferrari 288 GTO in the parking lot. They all look around the nightclub, trying to figure out who the car belongs to. Jerry admits it is his car and offers to take them each for a ride. Then the accident with the SUV and grain tower takes place. Several cars are parked up against a terrace wall, with the spilled grain higher than some of their bumpers. The spilled grain must be removed by hand using shovels; which could easily take three days for the clean up, and removal of the fallen grain tower.

The above closing description will suffice in showing how we develop reader appeal, to a former bland paragraph. The throughline, dialog, show don't tell details, and actions, are added to the story during later revision processes.

Thank you for visiting!


Original First Draft:

Below is the single paragraph outline for the chapter. Following the outline, is the original first rough draft.

"The graduation exercises behind him, Jerry eagerly stares from his dorm window in anticipation. His father habitually sends a new sports car to each of his children on graduation day. Traditionally, the new car is delivered after the family boards their plane for home. He can show the car off for a couple of days at school, before driving home in time for Friday night dinner. Once home, he spends the weekend showing off his new car to friends."

From this first simple outline, the story segment grew to include eleven paragraphs. The following text is from the first rough draft before beginning the revision process.

"Jerry Powers took his place in line with fellow graduates. Rehearsal earlier in the morning did not prevent his palms from becoming damp as he inched forward. He felt slight embarrassment as the student ahead of him performed some disruptive antics. With head held high, Jerry is ready to parade across the stage to the podium. His mouth turned dry as the Dean rattled off his accomplishments with high honors. He wheezed a parched thank you while accepting his diploma, then hurried back to his seat. An instant after the mortar boards took flight, Jerry rushed to meet his waiting family.

Due to students clowning around on stage, the graduation exercises ran longer than expected. Mr. Powers business ventures demand his constant attention, and he barely had enough time to catch the plane. Jerry only received one quick hug from each family member, before they rushed down the ramp to the parking lot. A close friend offered Jerry a beer, but he declined, knowing his new car would soon arrive. He removed his cap and gown, saving the tassel, and collected his receipt from the rental agencies van. He climbed the stairs to his dorm and popped a can of soda open to quench his thirst. Jerry straddled the couch to take a seat on the back facing the window. He checked his watch every few seconds, while staring though the glass, waiting in anticipation.

Throughout his college years, Jerry loved to show off the expensive things his parents bought for him. However, deep inside, he wished for more quality time with family, especially his father. He eagerly looked forward to getting back to their Friday night dinners together. Jerry's serious nature earned him many honorable and trusted friends, the kind parents liked to meet. His father was often accused of favoritism for admiring his acute responsibility. To prevent any further sibling rivalry, Jerry requested a lower priced sports car, than his older brothers received when they graduated. Even so, he knew his father would select from one of three cars, displayed on posters, which hung in his bedroom.

Jerry never took his eyes off the entrance drive to the dorm, until several students began knocking his door down. They were all yelling, "Jerry, Jerry, come on, your car's here!" The trucker used the main gate, which took him to the other side of the building. By the time they reached the parking lot, the driver already unloaded the sports car and retrieved the paperwork from his cab. Jerry wanted to get used to driving the new vehicle before taking it on a public road, so he circled the dorm a few times. He gave each of his closest friends a ride around the college grounds, before they departed for the parties.

Invited to three after graduation events, Jerry toured each party to show off his new car. He continued making the rounds from bash to barbecue, shuttling classmates from one gala event to another. He returned to his dorm before midnight to get a good nights sleep before leaving for home in the morning. Jerry cut breakfast short, taking biscuits and a few strips of bacon along with him for the long drive.

He found it hard to slip past the exit to a friend's apartment, but his desire to be with kin, helped make his decision not to stop easier. He arrived at his parents home in time for Friday night dinner with family. Jerry arose early Saturday morning to talk with his father, who all too soon departed for the airport on another business trip. Jerry spent the rest of the day tooling around his home town, visiting as many friends as possible. While away at school, their places of congregation changed often, and he hoped to learn of their new hangouts.

Jerry familiarized himself with all the locations and who would be at each one. He loved surprises, and learned on Saturday nights, the friends he missed, socialized along the strip. Before leaving for college, the once popular strip became Deadsville. Pleased to hear it returned to being their favorite hot spots, his excitement soared. Driving the strip never failed to catch every ones attention. Jerry welcomed the completely renovated night spots, with all new super bright lighting. He drove the entire length of the strip several times before stopping at the busiest corner to chat with friends."

The throughline originally continued for four more paragraphs, with Jerry bringing riders up and down the main drag until closing. Showing off and having a good time, bragging about his new car. These were cut due to the new last paragraphs.
The scene changed to a Sunday picnic without his father present, and became the start of the next chapter.

Respectfully Submitted
Gary V. Deutschmann, Sr.

Copyright © 2013 by CHL, LC

Re: Maximize Interest In Your Story

PostPosted: 08 Sep 2013, 11:34
by kg

One question:

Why would they be restricted to removing the grain by hand with shovels? Why not bulldozers and front end loaders right into the bed of a series of trucks to carry it away? The cars could be driven out long before the dozers and front end loaders became ineffective.

In fact, were that scenario to actually happen, I would think the cleanup crew would concentrate on getting all cars out of the parking lot so they could clean up the grain as unimpeded as possible. They would dig pathways for the cars to the exit to get them out of the way as soon as possible.

Re: Maximize Interest In Your Story

PostPosted: 09 Sep 2013, 08:31
by Kellemora
Hi Glenn - Fair question to ask, and deserves a proper answer.
Picture if you will, a strip type shopping center. A row of stores at the north end of a large parking lot.
Near the south end of the parking lot, beyond the main drive, are individual buildings housing restaurants.
Further south is the highway.
In front of the restaurants, facing the stores, is minimal parking, and an island with bushes and plants separating the front parking lot from the main drive through the shopping center. (This is a typical view for most shopping centers.)

Behind the row of restaurants at the far south of the parking lot, is a retaining wall. The highway itself is beyond this retaining wall. From the road surface down to the retaining wall, the landscape is terraced and planted with trees as a noise buffer.

Behind the restaurant, a row of cars are parked facing into the terraced wall, and another row of cars facing the back of the restaurant. The grain towers are located at the end of the micro-brewery building.

The entire tower does not collapse, when one leg of the tower is snapped, the tank bends down, breaking free from the leg opposite the broken leg, and bending the two legs into an arc as the tank crashes into the parking lot.
It misses the cars, landing in the driving lane, the top destroyed and the grain empties.
The tank now empty, rises back up about two feet, easing the tension on the two bent legs.

The type of grain is not mentioned. However, for a visual, picture oats, like what you feed to horses sparingly.
Grains do not pile up like rock, they spread out wide and shallow. The cars closest to the main spill area, the grain is higher than their bumpers. Which would mean it spread under the cars, up to a foot deep at the retaining wall.
Due to the way the grain was dumped, the entire tank at once with force, the grain would spread over a much wider area than if dumped from grain conveyor into a pile.

If one tried to use a bobcat, at most, they would only spread the grain deeper under the cars, as it walked away from the box (loader bucket). I suppose they could get some of the grain out that way, but would probably end up pushing it all over the place, making it harder to pick up later.

In short, the area and obstructions, are not conducive to using power equipment.

In all fairness. Rather than shoveling the grain by hand. They could have used a Vacuum Truck and sucked all the grain up, much easier than shoveling it up by hand, and probably with less chance of damage to the vehicles from swinging shovels.

However, the purpose of my story selection was not to provide the easiest way to remove the grain. It was designed to show how a single sentence, from an otherwise dull paragraph or story, could have action and excitement added to it.
The steps to eliminate the logical answers a reader may come up with on their own. To add the element of surprise.

As you pointed out, and as I added above, there are other methods available to remove the grain. To insure the three day lag time, we could have brought in a bobcat and have it throw a track blocking the exit. Or eliminate the use of a vacuum truck, due to the danger of an explosion from grain dust ignited by a spark. Or build on that aspect. They tried using the shopping centers parking lot vacuum, and a spark ignited the grain, causing a terrible disaster.

Why didn't they use a bobcat? For the same reason the victim was stabbed instead of shot. The killer didn't have a gun, or in this case, no bobcat was available. Now if the victim was stabbed, why did he use a boning knife, instead of the longer heavier carving knife? Because that was the weapon chosen by the author for this scene!

Now I have a question for you. What did you think of the presentation itself? Does eliminating the "What if's" help arrive at a more difficult or surprising answer? Help to eliminate the obvious answers?


Re: Maximize Interest In Your Story

PostPosted: 11 Sep 2013, 12:35
by Yogi
You know I am not an author of any sort, but I do have some limited ability to analyze a situation.

I found the "What if" table to be superfluous and an unnecessary step to adding interest to an otherwise boring scenario. The assumptions I would make as an author is that there are no obvious reasons why the car cannot be paraded up and down the promenade, and that my mission is to come up with an unexpected (and entertaining) reason to delay the show. While that's a complex sentence, it's a lot easier on my brain than documenting a list of reasons the car can be driven. I'm not interested in knowing why it is possible; my focus would be on why it's not possible. In other words, I'd try to be more efficient by going directly to my creative resources than to waste time itemizing the mundane.

Than again, as my disclaimer says, I'm not an author. :mrgreen:

Re: Maximize Interest In Your Story

PostPosted: 12 Sep 2013, 10:49
by Kellemora
I agree with you Yogi!

I also did not give the whole story. Believe me, it was bland as can be.
There were no exciting challenges, no conflicts, and no excitement.
The original chapter started after the graduation, the boys parents on their way home, and the boy in the dorm looking out the window.
He closed the chapter with the boy driving up and down the main drag at home, taking his buddies for a ride.

The entire drift of the story, revolved around the boy longing to be with his father, who was always away on business, or just too busy to ever spend time with him.
Since the boy in the story, is who wrote the story, it did have several tear jerker moments. But nothing to carry the story forward from page to page.

The article I penned above, was compiled from various notes I sent to him, trying to help him learn how to build up the excitement in his story. This came after he told me several of the things that happened in his home town. Not that it necessarily related directly to him personally.
The whole purpose of the What If's were to eliminate every scene he came up with. Simply because they were to easy to outguess the outcome. I kept telling him, he needed to come up with something that would be an unexpected surprise. Without it being unrealistic. No UFO dropped down and rendered his car immovable, hi hi.....

As far as the What If list. It is nothing the readers would see. It was just a list pointing out the facts of the existing story. To show the guy why he cannot come up with something dumb. Like a dead battery or he was too drunk to drive.
There are parts of the story I did not tell from previous chapters, that correlate with a time factor, and curbing the boys show-off-ness. The three day delay prevented him from making a trip, prior to the picnic, and discovering something about his father, that should not be disclosed until later on in the story. In other words, an entire chapter was relocated to near the end of the book.

The instructions I presented to him, over the course of several weeks, helped him considerably. Gave him the ability to see what he was missing in his work. I figured, if it helped him, perhaps it would help someone else.

I've run across many little tidbits of info from time to time, that before I knew them, I didn't know how to do something.
But to someone who has been writing for years, or already knows the answer, to them, it seems silly to mention such a trivial thing.
I've always had the meaning the words LESS and FEWER completely backwards. And because of that, I used them in reverse. So to me, the wrong way sounded like the right way. I'm still the pits at grammar, always have been.
So you notice, I avoid making any claims or providing information about grammar, hi hi...

In the case above, the What If list came from ideas that simply would not work to build an exciting conflict.

The presentation may not help you or me, because we can work this all out in our headbones in a matter of seconds. But it may help someone who is stuck with a bland story, and having trouble trying to figure out why. Or which sentence to pick to expound on.


Re: Maximize Interest In Your Story

PostPosted: 12 Sep 2013, 12:33
by Yogi
I have a humorous story about my brief excursion into authoring stories. It all happened when I was painstakingly trying to learn English from an old time high school teacher. I lived a considerable distance from the school and it took two buses on different routes to get met there every day. To my dismay the buses were not always on schedule and my first class of the day was English. Thus, I was not always able to make it to class before the starting bell.

The English teacher was very understanding, but after a few late entries he administered a penalty. He told me I'd have to write a 1000 word essay on some esoteric subject of his choice in order to be absolved. The penalty for not doing the assignment would be a longer essay the next time, and if I missed that assignment it was off to the discipline office for me. I naturally chose to write because I could not afford to stay late after school to be disciplined.

Because the English teacher was essentially a kind hearted man, he allowed my compositions to be type written. That was wonderful news because I had been taking typing classes and became quite good at the keyboard. Thus, when assigned to write 1000 words about Thomas Jefferson's childhood, I simply went to the encyclopedia and copied word for word. The teacher bought into it and never questioned if I had 999 words or 1001 in the essay.

After two or three such assignments I began to wonder if the teacher actually read what I was writing. On the next assignment I decided to do something obvious as a check. It was something like stating Benjamin Franklin was born in Mexico of mixed race parentage. That was the only addition I made to the copied encyclopedia text. It went unnoticed. I then began to change history even more in the next assignment and by the time the school year ended only the first line of my penalty essay was from the encyclopedia. The stories I concocted for historical figures were hysterical. I often regretted that the English teacher did not read them because I would have appreciated some knowledgeable input about my creative writing skills. The thing about all this creativity is that it was off the top of my head. I might have thought about what I was going to write for five minutes or so, but that was it. I typically sat down and just typed as fast as I could think.

I'm not so sure I could write an entire book off the top of my head, but I am very confident that I could get the plot and it's development down in one sitting. I might make an outline so that I would not lose sight of the direction I intended to travel, but that would be it for notes. Then again, I'm not forced to earn a living from my writing. I'm sure the pressures are different in that circumstance.

Re: Maximize Interest In Your Story

PostPosted: 13 Sep 2013, 09:23
by Kellemora
Hi Yogi

Sounds like you were met with several hardships in your youth.
You writing is much better than mine. Loved your story too!
It is a shame your teacher never read your work.
It may have prompted sending you in an advanced direction.

Once a month, at work, we have like a test. Comes with no reward, there are no winners.
However, we see how everyone did in each field they grade. All by computer, hi hi...
Some of our best writers score the lowest, and some of the worst, like me, score the highest.
I've never hit the top, but have been in the top 10% with 85 to 90% of my responses.
Although many of them are all the way at the bottom as well.

The skill test is done on their server, on-line, as I'm typing here.
We have 60 minutes to complete 50 paragraphs.
It works like Flash-Cards. A topic, often only one word or short phrase flashes on the screen.
We have to write a paragraph on that topic and hit enter before the next topic flashes up.
If you do not hit enter, what you have written is stored and the next topic comes up.
In the beginning, knowing the next topic would come up, I didn't hit enter and just kept typing until the screen changed.
This reduced my overall score considerably. But I quickly learned the methodology of their madness.
And if you could write a paragraph on the topic, and write the word END before hitting the enter key, you got additional points.
The computer searches for keywords in your paragraph, and the more of these keywords you used, the higher your score.
Meaning, no one actually reads the paragraphs you wrote. Although the algorithm used also checks spelling and grammar.
I usually score horrible on grammar, excellent on spelling, and have learned many of the keywords for certain topics.
This is only one of several tests they offer. Its primary goal is to teach us to overcome writers block, and/or get more work done faster.

For the first time ever, I'm doing NaNoWriMo this year. I don't really have the spare time for it. I don't see how quantity over quality means much of anything. However, over forty members of a writing group I belong to, have banded together to get me to do it this year. I don't doubt that I will be able to hit the 50k words to get a winners badge. I do much more than that in a month for work, not counting my own WIP.

As well as you write, perhaps you should give it a go. You may end up with a story, that after polishing, could become a best seller. 50k is not all that many words. 1,667 words per day for 30 days. You are only doing a rough draft, scenes do not need to be in order, you can type them as they come into your headbone. No one will see your work, except you, if you want to post an excerpt you feel proud of.
You type so well, it is worth considering!