Woman reading in bed with a shocked expression

Now that you’ve assembled a rough outline, have your cast of main characters, and are familiar with your setting or world, what next?

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • What is my hero/heroine’s goal? This is an important step. Do not leave it up to chance. For e.g. your Elf hero, Lyari may have as his goal to slay the antagonist (bad guy or creature) Nilanth the Insane, a dragon bent on destruction of all that Lyari holds dear.
  • What are Lyari’s strengths? You may already have determined this, but if not, now is the time. For e.g. Lyari may be a master swordsman, have great courage, know a few magic tricks, and so on.
  • What are Lyari’s weaknesses? Yes, even the hero must have a weakness or two. If he didn’t, he’d seem rather unbelievable as a character. Perhaps his weakness is his desire to protect his sidekick and friend, Elora; a human girl who, although as skilled as he is with a sword, does not have magical skills. Another weakness, and one that can be played up may be that Lyari has no experience at all in slaying dragons, and since Nilanth killed his family or mentor a long time ago, he is overly emotional when it comes to the prospect of killing the dragon, and it affects both his magical skills and swordplay in a negative way. He may also have a fear of fire due to repressed memories of the dragon killing his family when he was a baby.

Now you have some obstacles that will make the slaying of the dragon much harder to do than merely finding the dragon and slaying it immediately. You may have even more obstacles that will get in the way of the hero’s goal. These are things that must be resolved before the end of the book. If the hero needs to conquer his fear of fire, for e.g. before he can actually slay the dragon, then he must do so before the end of the book, but not necessarily too near the beginning. You can build tension with these weaknesses, sprinkling them throughout the story, but also playing up his considerable skills at the same time.

Use time as an ally in building tension. Lyari only has a limited time to slay the dragon, learn new skills, and conquer his own fears. Will he make it? The reader should be asking themselves that question as they read. Lyari won’t be able to stop and eat breakfast first before slaying the dragon. Time is of the essence. Split second decisions and actions can turn the plot at a pace to satisfy even the most demanding reader. There may be times when Lyari and Elora can sit down and eat a meal in relative peace, but make sure there aren’t too many of these times so that those that you do include will be more appreciated.

Pacing is an important aspect of writing. Once you have decided what the goals are (there may be more than one) and what the challenges are, you will develop a feel for where to include them. Of course, you do not want them all in the first chapter; you can distribute them throughout the book. It becomes instinctive after a while. Reread what you have written constantly and you will see where the pacing lags, or where there is just too much going on for one scene.

Good luck!

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One thought on “Goals, Building Tension, Setting your Pace

  1. as I read your notes, I am seeing these principles used in my favorite stories. I get so wrapped up in the story that I don’t see the way the development goes. I”m becoming a critical reader.

    Liked by 1 person

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