Once you grab the reader using the main story ingredients—character, setting, initial conflict—it is necessary to pull the reader past the Hook and deeper into your story world. To accomplish this, give the character more problems (conflicts) to overcome—I call this stirring the Story Stew.
We all have problems. Characters in novels and stories must have more than their fair share, problems complicated by their own actions (or lack), by their decisions (often times poor choices), and by roadblocks the antagonist puts in front of them, the more and increasingly harder the better.
The complications a character faces needs to be dramatic, the type of conflict that, if unresolved, will destroy them. The impending destruction can be death, great loss (friend, family member, job, validity, integrity, etc.) but should be devastating if not overcome.
The problems the character faces are integral to everything a story must do, that is, keep the reader reading. To do this, a conflict resolved early must be replaced by another, larger problem.
Thickening the Stew
Continuing the stew analogy, once you have introduced the main story ingredients, add items that will enhance the overall flavor. If not careful, the ingredients will fight against each other, and too much of one will taint the outcome. When making a beef stew, you probably do not want to add pineapple unless you have a specific reason, such as experimenting with a dish incorporating Hawaiian flavor. But let’s say you want to make a regular, all-American beef stew: chunks of beef, potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, and spices.
A great stew is thickened. If not thickened by roux (a mixture of flour and butter or oil), the end result is a watered down concoction that is not a stew at all, but a soup. It’s all about consistency. A true stew reaches the proper consistency when you can write your name by dripping the sauce from the ladle. Story consistency happens when all ingredients merge into a delicious whole.
Every bite (scene) ideally will include all the stew’s ingredients, each a perfect blend enhancing the overall flavor.
Again using my own story, Nychelle’s Gate, from last week’s blog—because I can state emphatically the motivations of the creator—my hook showed Nychelle (character) stumbling (action) into her parents tent (setting), those who forced her into the elder’s bed against her wishes (conflict).
Stirring the stew involved increasing the tension, showing Nychelle’s reaction, and her decision to act, and thereby, a new conflict.
“How dare you, girl,” her father sneered, his hand raised to strike if needed.
Nychelle dug her toes into the soft earth and pushed herself back against the small table. “I won’t be his fifth wife, the lowest of his shemsha. I won’t be sent off like one of your goats.”
Mother stood behind her father, always dutiful. “He’s the Elder,” she said. “Any woman of the clan would be honored.”
“Honored?” Nychelle laughed, heard and tasted the disgust in her voice. “Then let another have him. He’s vile.”
Her father took a step nearer. He would beat her into submission and drag her, cowering like a child, back to the Elder. That would be the easy part. She glanced around and saw the bone knife used for cutting meat lying on the table. Her hand found the knife without effort; she wheeled toward her father and waved the pale white blade in front of her.
His canted eyes squinted, the black pupils lost in the surrounding blue, his mouth vanishing in yellowed mustache and beard.
Nychelle felt for the table with her free hand, pushed herself to her feet, and crouched like a tiger ready to pounce. “I know how to stick meat,” she said, her words slurred because of the swelling lip. “I have often butchered your beasts.”
“You go way beyond, girl,” he snarled. “I’ll not let a man talk to me like that, and I’ll take a lot less from you.”
He lunged at her.
Each character action, followed immediately by a reaction, pulls the reader further into the story and world created. Simply, one sentence moves to the next, paragraph by paragraph, action and reaction, to the rousing climax.
The four word paragraph, “He lunged at her” is warning of something to come, a promise of continued action. Even though you might not be entranced by this particular type of story (fantasy), the blending and stirring of the necessary ingredients is needed for any story type. As creator, you may take a more leisurely approach, and if done right, can work. The main thing is to show the world and the people solving major problems in their life—deciding what color dress to wear to the prom is not normally enough, in itself, to hold interest.
Events must be happening, and within the story framework, a character facing a dilemma whose resolution is imperative to their well-being. Toss in all the ingredients in proper measure, and the story will work.
See you on the next page,