To write a successful fiction story, you want to achieve what sometimes is referred to among writers as “staging” – that is, giving scenes such vividness that the characters and setting appear to pop right out of the book and appear before the reader. If that really happened, you’d be transfixed by the scene being played before you.
Mastering the skill of staging is no simple process – unlike many of the tips given so far in the book, an author can’t just make a single change (use active voice rather than passive, vary sentence length, etc.) to achieve it. Rather, staging requires employing several varied skills.
Perhaps the most important general skill is ensuring that every word and element of the story serves the drama at hand. That means every word and element of the story must attempt to move forward the characters’ goals, must arise from their motivations, and must set them on collision courses. Too often among novice writers, stories include a lot of wasted words and scenes that don’t advance the characters and hence the plot. The result is unnecessary descriptions and dialogue and a theme that’s weakly supported. To address this when editing, always keep at the forefront of your mind what each characters’ goal is and ask yourself, “Does this word/sentence/paragraph show my characters attempting to achieve their goals and by doing so allows them to come into conflict?” If the answer is “no,” then seriously consider eliminating (or at least revising) that word/sentence/paragraph.
Another way to achieve successful staging is to ensure that every word and element of the story is in some way evocative, and in doing so serves the drama at hand. Evocative writing involves using active verbs, appealing to various senses, and employing symbolic writing such as similes and metaphors. Yet again, even the most beautifully written description of a setting is useless unless it somehow affects the characters’ goals. It might do that by setting the atmosphere and tone. Perhaps it demonstrates the great challenge ahead for a character. Perhaps it symbolizes the characters’ inner conflict. No matter how it does that, though, it always must advance the drama.
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