You’re writing fiction. You’re an entertainer, so your primary task when you write is to be entertaining. It’s a constant challenge.
I’ve got a yellow sticky pasted to my screen which says: DRAMA. It’s easy to forget to create drama and make your fiction entertaining because there are so many things to remember when you’re writing a story.
You need to add drama to every scene, and to your narration too.
When you’re writing fiction, be hard on your characters
You love your characters. You want them to be happy. That’s a fatal mistake. The happier your characters, the less drama.
I love this post, A Letter from David Mamet to the Writers of The Unit:
SO: WE, THE WRITERS, MUST ASK OURSELVES OF EVERY SCENE THESE THREE QUESTIONS.
1) WHO WANTS WHAT?
2) WHAT HAPPENS IF HER DON’T GET IT?
3) WHY NOW?
When you’re writing fiction, everyone wants something, and everyone has to FIGHT to get it.
Let’s look at some tips for adding drama to your fiction. Your readers will love it.
1. Give each of your primary characters a secret
You’ve got secrets, haven’t you? Everyone has. Most of our secrets are trivial, but we nevertheless wouldn’t like to see them revealed on Twitter.
Secrets can be major. What if your main character gets fired, and is too scared to tell her young family because they’re dependent on her income? So she “goes to work” every day. What happens on payday?
Trivial secrets abound. You tell your best friend you can’t go wedding dress shopping with her because you have to take your grandmother to the doctor. Then another friend sees you at the movies, and you worry that your best friend will find out.
So give each of your characters a secret.
2. Remember that family ties can strangle you
Families provide endless opportunities for drama. Family members are closest to you, so they know everything about you. They know how to hurt you.
Think about your own family. Do large family gatherings lead to arguments? Why?
Make things difficult for your main characters by giving them family ties which give opportunities for drama via jealousy, manipulation, competitiveness — even fear.
3. Horrible characters are drama gold
You’re writing a novel or short story, so you get to spend a lot of time with your characters. We all want to be around nice people. Why would you make some of your characters horrible?
One reason: to create drama.
Let’s say that your female lead in your romance falls in love with a man who’s divorced, and has three children. The kids are demons from hell. Brainstorm ways in which the demon kids can demolish the romance in this new relationship.
4. Avoid melodrama: strip emotion from tragedy
Basically, melodrama is overdone emotion. You know someone who’s a drama queen — every tiny hiccup in her life is a disaster.
As a rule of thumb: the bigger the emotional event, the less emotion your characters show. This adds drama, and avoids melodrama.
Imagine that your female lead has returned to work a week after her husband was killed in an accident. Which would create more drama:
- She spends the day breaking into loud sobs?
- She shows no avert emotion, but throws herself into her work?
5. Amp up the emotion: everyone feels something, all the time
How do you feel now? You’re feeling something, aren’t you? Your characters FEEL too. This is what’s meant by show, don’t tell — your characters experience events and the concurrent emotions in real time.
Avoid labeling emotion: she was angry. Instead, show her driving too fast, or slamming doors.
Be wary of emphasizing the physical sensations of emotion too: her heart pounded, her knees felt weak, she released a sigh…
Instead, show her actions, accompanied by her thoughts: she closed the door carefully. She had no intention of slamming it. Who did he think he was? Promoted two days, and now he was telling her how to do her job?
By the way, when you’re showing emotion, you can amp up the weather too. What’s more dramatic:
- A child is home alone, and watching TV. It’s a calm, pleasant summer’s night; or
- Same child, alone, but it’s stormy. The power’s out, and rain and wind lash the house.
Obviously, the second option.
Writing fiction is more fun for you when you focus on drama
Add some drama to your fiction today. You’ll have more fun writing it, and your readers will love it.