When you hear the word “drama”, you probably think of acting class, or the rumors and gossip that used to cause fights during your high school days. In literary terms, “drama” is the feeling of tension caused by the conflict of interests between characters. In order to up the ante in your story, to make it more exciting or interesting to your readers, you’ll want to add in a LOT of drama. Again, I don’t mean “drama” as in catfights or long-lost-twins showing up. (You don’t have to write a soap opera.) Here’s how to create drama and build tension in your novel so that your story is unputdownable.
1. What does your character want?
This is their goal or motivation. This is what drives them to action, something they strive to attain no matter what gets in their way.
2. Who/what is standing in their way?
Typically, this is another character with an opposing goal or motivation. Hence the drama that ensues when a superhero faces down a supervillain: one’s goal is to do evil, the other’s is to stop the evil acts from happening. To increase drama, play the opposing motivations to your advantage. Force both characters to work hard to outmaneuver the other.
3. How are they going to overcome the obstacle?
How a character attempts to overcome obstacles to get to their goals is a form of character development; it tells the reader a lot about them. The different strategies they employ to get around the obstacle should be unique to who they are, compared to how other characters would handle the same situation. Brainstorm the different techniques that character would use so that it’s consistent with their personality.
4. Don’t take it easy on them.
Drama/tension is built in how many times a character tries to overcome an obstacle, so don’t make it easy for them. Don’t let them succeed on their first try. Force them into situations where they fail and have to keep trying over and over to get what they want. This can occur all within one scene: a character may employ several tactics to get what they want, until, at last, they succeed.
5. Add some kind of conflict in nearly every scene
This isn’t just the formula for the overarching plot of the story; this is meant to be used even in the little conflicts in each scene throughout the story. So even if it’s as simple as your character wants a potato chip and their best friend won’t share her Pringles with them, turn it into drama. It keeps the reader interested.
- Don’t always give the character what they want.
- Make them fight for it.
- Make the opposition really hard to overcome.
- Nothing screams “amateur” like a character who gets what they want with little to no struggle.
When writing a scene, identify the conflict: when one character wants something, but has to overcome obstacles to get it. Outline three different tactics they try using in order to get what they want. The first few times, have them fail. Consider how their opposition, a character with opposing motives, might act to get what they want. How might they use certain tactics to overcome the first character’s attempts to get what they want? Play up this dynamic. And read more about how to implement this technique throughout your novel here.
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