[found on writersdigest.com]
Readers like to worry about characters in crisis. They want to tremble about what’s around the next corner (whether it’s emotional or physical). If a reader knows what’s coming, and then it does in fact come, the worry factor is blown. Your novel no longer conveys a fictive dream but a dull ride down familiar streets.
The fix is simple: Put something unexpected in every scene. Doing this one thing keeps the reader on edge.
So how do you come up with the unexpected? Try making lists. Pause and ask yourself what might happen next, and list the possibilities, centering on three primary areas: description, action and dialogue. For each one, don’t choose the first thing that comes to mind (which usually amounts to cliches). Force yourself to list at least five alternatives.
Description: Dump generic details for ones unique to the character’s perceptions. How might he see a room where someone died? What’s one surprising thing about the wallpaper? The bed? The closet?
Action: Close your eyes and watch your scene unfold. Let the characters improvise. What are some outlandish things that could result? If something looks interesting, find a way to justify it.
Dialogue: Don’t always use “on-the-nose” exchanges. How might characters say things that put other characters (and thus, readers) off balance? Consider Clarice Starling’s first conversation with Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. Clarice begins:
“I think you’ve been destructive. For me it’s the same thing.”
“Evil’s just destructive? Then storms are evil, if it’s just that simple. And we have fire, and then there’s hail. Underwriters lump it all under ‘Acts of God.’”
“I collect church collapses, recreationally. Did you see the recent one in Sicily?”
You can make these lists in your planning stages, just before writing a scene, and/or when you revise. Either way, the unexpected elements that result will perceptibly elevate the quality of your story.”
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