I recently read a story I had committed to reviewing and, sure enough, I struggled through it. It was supposed to be a thriller, and as such should have been fast paced. Further, it had some international intrigue, the kind of story I usually like. But I could not get into the story. AT ALL.
The problem was that this writer filled the entire novel with scenes that didn’t really go anywhere. Here is what I mean. A scene in any book must have polarity. That is, the scene must have movement. Think of it as an electric charge.
Take a scene that starts negative. Let’s say that your character is attending his best friend’s funeral. Wow, a huge negative polarity right at the start of the scene. Now, for that scene to move there must be a place to go from this hugely negative polarity. One option is for the scene to become more negative. Problem: how to accomplish that when the negative value is so high to start with in this example. But it can be done, and you can probably think of a few ways to do that. For example, the dead friend was a CIA operative and the evil terrorists decide to add insult to injury by bombing the funeral. More people dead, right? It works.
But another option is to more from a negative polarity to a positive one. In this case the tension developed is good instead of bad. Tension, any tension, is the stuff of story. Without it you have no story to tell.
So, how would this work for our funeral scene. There could be a happenstance meeting of the love interest for your protagonist. She knew your dead friend, liked him, your characters commiserate together, have coffee and hit it off. Tension, but good tension. Movement from negative to positive. See how that works?
Scenes “turn” on this type of movement or they don’t turn at all and go nowhere along with your story. Compare the charge at the beginning and the end of your scene. If the value doesn’t change polarity, negative to positive or positive to negative, or more negative (and vice versa) then why is the scene in your narrative?
That’s an excellent question to put to all your scenes. Scenes have to do a couple of things only – development character and move plot forward. But they must do this with added tension and if there are no polarity shifts, then there is no movement and you have a worthless scene. Too many worthless scenes and you have a worthless book people can’t get into. They stop reading this book and they never pick up another one of yours.
How you develop your novel along these lines is often dictated by genre specific conventions which dictate pacing. But no matter the genre, simple attention to polarity and scene shifts is guaranteed to spice up your writing.