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One member of my ladylike critique group submitted a good, solid kidnapping scene for our review this week, but it wasn't as exciting as it should have been.

Thanks to the Global Story Goggles I've been learning to use, I was able to see what was wrong and give a brilliant-if-I-do-say-so structural edit, to which everyone--including the author--went "Ooooh!"



The scene had clear, escape-or-die high stakes. The captive vs captors conflict was fine. But I couldn't find a turning point.

The scene, in fact, turned six times: a ray of hope, a stab of despair, a possible escape route, another blow to the hero's head; he loosens his ropes; they tie him up tighter...and so on. The whole scene bobbed gently up and down like a little boat.

What if, I thought, she hits the hero with all the downs in a row? That'd create a single, steep downward slope to rock bottom. Then bring in the hope: give him that slight loosening of his bonds. His captors start turning against each other. He finds the rope-fraying nail. Et voilà: arc.

Dan Brown is living proof that a make-Dan-Brown-rich number of readers will stay up past bedtime reading mediocre prose if your scenes have peaks and troughs and big tone changes. Sadly, the converse isn't true: the most polished style can't make little bobbing boats into page-turners.

So roll in the stormclouds, start the wind machine, and make some big waves. Then polish the prose.

Because, as Shawn Coyne says:

Can there be an innovative literary novel that is also a barnburner of a read? Or a potboiler that is exquisitely written? Such is the Holy Grail of publishing. And of course, the answer is a resounding "YES".

When line-by-line and global Story magic come together, our jaws drop. It's why we pick up a book: [in the hope] that this one will join the short list of those that have changed our lives.


Crossposted from Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments.

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