How many times have you finished reading a book and thought that the story might have become a great one, if only the author had worked on it a little more? If so, what you’re saying is that the author missed some important elements of storytelling when writing the novel. To avoid making the same mistake, consider the four elements of storytelling below when writing your own novel.

The Element of Conflict

Conflict in fiction refers to anything that acts as an obstacle to the protagonist achieving his aim. When you assess your story, consider if the events are running too smoothly and whether the protagonist is being opposed or tested at all. If not, then inject conflict to create more friction and excitement in the tale.

Not all conflict has to be huge, destructive or violent. In fact, sometimes, conflict does not even involve others. An external conflict can be something as simple as the protagonist having a flat tire when he has an important appointment to go to. An example of an inner conflict is a phobia or flaw in the protagonist’s personality. The idea is to pile on the problems and investigate how the protagonist deals with them.

The Element of Jeopardy

Always remember to place your protagonist in jeopardy. This means that the more he has to lose or the more possibility of failure on his part, the more exciting your story will be. Your protagonist has to lose (or, at least, be at risk of losing) everything.

The Element of Action

Today, the average reader has been conditioned by television and wants stories that are fast-paced, move quickly and have crisp dialogue. In literary terms, especially for commercial fiction, authors are expected to do the same in their books. Here are some tips to ensure that you have enough action in your story:

  • Don’t have too many minor characters crowding your novel
  • Make sure you avoid elaborate sketches of location and setting
  • Don’t spend precious words on long conversations that have no bearing on the tale whatsoever
  • Plot your tale so that there are ‘story points’ (thrilling points of drama which propel the protagonist on to the next event in the story) throughout your novel

The Element of Tension

Tension means always playing the game of ‘cat and mouse’ with the reader. Never reveal all of the information at once. Tell the reader enough so that he follows the story and his pulse quickens, but not so much that he can guess the plot. To create tension, authors focus on the element of atmosphere – scenes are written in short and tight sentences, thereby, making the text appear clipped or in staccato tones.

The best example of how to create tension appears in ghost stories. Authors often rely on a gathering storm, which casts a sinister darkness on an abandoned house off a lonely lane. The protagonist is drawn to the house. The front door shuts behind him dramatically. Suddenly, there is a gust of wind and the protagonist looks up. He has just enough time to step away and avoid the chandelier crashing down on him.

As you can see, when conflict, jeopardy, action and tension are used, a simple story becomes more exciting and helps the reader resonate with the protagonist’s predicament. Use the suggestions made above to ensure that your tale is developed properly and, without doubt, it will become irresistible to publishers and readers alike.

By Aneeta Sundararaj

This article was first published on Suite.101:

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