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HOW DOES YOUR STORY FLOW?

May 28, 2014

Next month, I’m doing a presentation for my writer’s group on structuring chapters and scenes. In part of that presentation, I mention story flow. It made me think of how important that is for me as a reader. It’s something I didn’t address directly in last week’s article.

WHAT IS STORY FLOW?

What I mean by story flow is how smoothly you get from point A to point B. Is your story a jumbled up mess, with random thoughts that go here and there that somehow coalesce into a summary? Or, does the story follow a logical, linear pace from start to finish?

THERE ARE NO ABSOLUTES

Rules, of course, are meant to be broken. A story doesn’t have to be rigidly linear from start to finish. In fact, most of them aren’t. However, there’s a fine line between comfortably loose and chaotic. The last thing you want to do is lose your reader.

BREAKING IT DOWN

Every story has a main plot, and many times, one or more sub-plots. Not only that, but there is usually a certain amount of back story. The idea is to lay it all out there so not to confuse and lose your reader. The last thing you want is for the reader to be halfway through the book, scratching their head with no idea what they’re reading!

Here’s an example of a bad one:

Prologue from 100 years in the past

Action with hero present day

Back story (about the hero)

Sub plot with side character

Bad guy development with back story

Action with hero

Second sub plot with another side character

Back story (about the hero)

Bad guy development & action

Hero has confrontation with bad guy, loses and has meltdown

Back story (about the hero)

First sub plot again

Third sub plot

More bad guy

Action with hero

We’ve just reached the halfway point. At this spot, there hasn’t been much room for the plot to move forward. All the real estate has been taken up by extraneous material, whether relevant or not. Also, a third subplot? Come on!

Here’s an example of a better one:

Prologue from 100 years in the past

Action with hero, plus a few paragraphs of back story mixed in

Bad guy action with a little background and motivation

Sub plot with action scene and introducing secondary character

Action with hero & first intermingling with bad guy

Hero has first meltdown after failing confrontation with bad guy

Notice how things are more blended and less disjointed. This is only an example and not by any means the only way to do it.

DON’T GET TOO SIDETRACKED WITH SUB-PLOTS

A certain amount of sub-plots are fine as long as they make sense and play a key part in the main plot. If they’re just extra material because you think they’re neat, or, they’re just there to create atmosphere, dump them! Everything has to be there for a reason. It’s also important that they fit a timeline with everything else. You shouldn’t dump a sub plot into the story at random. It should fit and not interrupt the flow.

DON’T DO CHAOTIC

Though you may think it’s rad, or cool or being the sensitive artiste, but throwing your story out there in random spurts isn’t the best way to win an audience. People like patterns, despite what you may have heard about how quick people get bored, how people like something different. You can do different in the content, not the pattern! However, there’s nothing wrong with varying the pattern, as long as it makes sense!

FROM HERE TO THERE

The reader is depending on you to take them on that trip from A to B. Don’t jerk them around, pull them in different directions and confuse them with unnecessary fluff that will kill their enthusiasm. Your job is to keep them interested. By setting a tone and flow, you can do that.

Happy writing.

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