Alfred Hitchcock once said that drama is life, with the dull bits cut out. I’ve yet to find a better statement that describes a valuable writing goal for a novel: write a dramatic story with the dull parts taken out. If you accomplish this goal, your novel will be compelling, un-put-downable, and memorable. No one wants to read dull narrative so why waste your valuable time writing dull scenes or boring conversations or worse—prolonged internal monologues that go nowhere? Instead direct your energy on writing a story with energy.
Back to Hitchcock’s quote, which, by the way, is not only profound insight from a master storyteller, but it requires dissection into three parts for proper contemplation.
What is drama anyway? I had the good fortune of hearing a fine discussion about drama from another master storyteller. Bestselling author Ken Follett had this to say about the subject: “Focus on drama. If a scene doesn’t have drama, get it done with quickly, then get back to the drama.” He defined drama as conflict between people.
Drama is not people thinking about what they had for lunch. Drama is not someone feeling sorry for himself over running out of gas. Drama requires more than one person. So if you want a character to think about his lunch or run out of gas, there needs to be a good story reason for it. Otherwise, do as Follett suggests and get the scene over with quickly; or cut it.
Do we want our novels to reflect real life? You bet. A necessity for compelling, un-put-downable, and memorable novels is characters that resonate with readers. Create believable characters that make life-altering decisions. (They generate drama). Create real plot situations that have potential for high drama. Then follow through. Make your novel universal by crafting characters with universal emotions.
Universal emotions are those emotions that people have felt since humans began walking the earth. Whether you were an Eskimo in Alaska, a pharaoh in ancient Egypt, a film star in Hollywood, or a farmer in South America, at some point in your life you felt fear, love, hate, anger, joy, desire, greed, and jealousy. This is the stuff of life and the stuff of compelling fiction!
3. Dull Bits Cut Out
Cut out anything that slows the momentum of your novel. While you may have breather moments in your story, those scenes still must drive the story forward. In fact, there needs to be a reason for every scene in your novel. However, scenes that perform just one task aren’t enough. Another expert, Debra Dixon, author of the book, Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, says, “Move the story forward. Don’t relive scenes from different points of view. Each scene must serve three purposes; one purpose must be goal, motivation, or conflict.” Aha! If every single scene in your novel is performing service to your story in this way, can you see how there couldn’t possibly be dull parts?
So, if you have a scene where a character runs out of gas, now you know it can’t be there as filler or simply a way of getting your character from one place to another. That scene has to do three things. Maybe it’s to heighten suspense; will he get to his sweetheart before the bad guys do? Maybe it’s to show motivation; his sweetheart might talk and she knows where he stashed the money. Perhaps it’s to expose character; he requires a wheelchair and can’t walk to get gas. Maybe it’s to introduce another character, such as the highway patrolman who pulls up alongside the road. Insist that your scenes carry their weight and you’ll have a riveting novel.
4. Putting The Elements Together
Think of your favorite books and decide if they have dull scenes. I can easily name three books that have absolutely no uninteresting moments: Prey by Michael Crichton, False Memory by Dean Koontz, and any romance novel by Nora Roberts.
Take a look at your manuscript and put your scenes to the test. Are they filled with drama? Do they feature characters and plot situations that resonate with readers? Is the story gripping from beginning to end? If you answered yes, then you may have a page-turner on your hands. And that’s a good thing.
About Victoria M.
Causes Victoria M. Johnson Supports
Charity Water, MACSA (Mexican American Community Services Agency), Girl Scouts, Libraries, Asante Africa, and others.