Author News Advice Blog 5 Feb 21 by Lorenzo Samuel, author of speculative fiction writings. In the last (1 Nov 20 issue) "Author News" advice blog, I discussed judging points of the qualities that make a story great. To refresh our minds here they are again: 1. Is the story original? 2. Is the plot enthralling? 3. Is the author’s style superior? 4 Does the story have an emotional impact? 5. Is the story memorable? We limited our discussion to #1: originality.
In this blog, let’s take up enthralling plots. First, we should define the key words. Plot is the plan of action in a play, novel, poem, short story, etc. To enthrall is to captivate or fascinate almost as if one is under a spell.
Picture this scene: A person is reading a story. She looks at the clock. It reads 11:00 P.M. She has an important business presentation to make the next morning for which she must be well rested, sharp and alert. She should go to bed right now. Nevertheless, she dives back into the story because she must find out what happens next. She’s putting her life on hold, on the back burner, for she is so enthralled. The clock strikes midnight. She still reads.
The key element that makes a plot enthralling is suspense. The more suspenseful the action, the more enthralled your reader will be. Suspense is the interest and excitement one feels while awaiting the climax or resolution of a story or series of events.
The reader has gained empathy with the character. She or he cares about what happens to this fictional being. She wants things to turn out well. However, the outcome is uncertain. It looks like the character will go under, will not survive. You turn the page wondering how he will get out of this dire situation. That is suspense. That makes for an enthralling plot.
One moment of suspense does not make an enthralling plot though. The suspense must build as one reads along from situation to situation. The protagonist’s first challenge, resolved or not, must lead to an event more dire or a threatening situation requiring more challenge for resolution. And so on to the climax of the story. This building of suspense is what enthralls the reader.
Still, suspense is not enough. To illustrate this, take two characters, one for whom you have much empathy and one for whom you have little or no empathy. Suspense will build only to the degree you care about the character. Depending how negative is your empathy for a character, you will not care what happens to him or her. You may even want him or her to succumb or lose. If you care about the character, you want her or him to succeed or win,
To summarize: Build an enthralling plot by increasing suspense and by putting in characters for whom the reader will have empathy, that is, care about what happens to them.
I strive for this in my stories. However, even experts at enthralling readers always practice to do better. As you improve, your stories will enthrall a larger and larger readership until they cannot wait for your next story.
In the next issue of Author News, we’ll take up point 3 of the judging points: Is the author’s style superior?