Long ago, in a publishing landscape far away — does it seem like I’m beginning too many posts this way? I bet you can tell it’s Thea Devine posting today. In any event, Casey’s post a few days ago about flying monkeys called to mind a conference I ran many years ago where I’d invited not only industry people, but also the gentleman in charge of programming at Lifetime TV (seemed like a natural fit, romance and Lifetime), and a producer from USANetwork. I don’t remember anything from any of the workshops I attended (it was a looong time ago) except this: the USA producer talked about writing TV drama and the key to moving the story along.
He said, at the end of each act, something must change.
Extrapolate that for novelists: At the end of each chapter, something must change.
Think about it. Every little shift and setback, a small emotional moment, a big get out of my face statement — and something changes. It can be subtle or monumental. It can be something someone says, or something your heroine sees, or realizes, or theorizes (rightly or wrongly). It could be someone setting your protagonist on the wrong track. It could be a disappointment, a revelation, a decision, an apology, a resolution, an action, or taking no action. It could be something that’s not what it seems or someone’s hidden agenda.
Any of those changes (or any you could think of) should send your protagonist off in a different direction which will lead to more changes, more ramifications and more consequences.
In essence, you’re programming: if heroine does this, then this could happen. Or that. If she says something, someone could be affected negatively, or someone could overhear and spread gossip about it. If she chooses to leave, she will feel free, or she will feel as if she were falling into a black hole all alone. If the hero confesses everything he knows, he would be breaking a childhood code of silence, and therefore implicating his friends in a long ago unsolved misadventure … but he’ll win back the woman he loves.
Each of these moments of change has consequences which then raise the stakes in each succeeding chapter, almost like you’re climbing steps from one complication/change to the next until everything is tied up at the end.
So ask yourself at the end of each chapter: what changes? What can change? If something changed, what would shift? What would send the heroine in a different direction? What if it did? What if it didn’t? What if she wants to stay in place when even when she has choices? What if someone gives her an ultimatum? Or challenges her? What if she walks away from everything? And then wishes she hadn’t. Or is ecstatic that she did?
What happens next?
I leave that to your imagination, your tolerance for change, your aversion to or embrace of risk — in fiction and in life.
Thea Devine’s books defined erotic historical romance. She is the USAToday best-selling author of 25 erotic historical and contemporary romances and a dozen novellas.. Her 2008 erotic contemporary romance, His Little Black Book, was reissued in October. She’s currently working on a new novel.