In this article, I’m going to give you two lists of outside-the-box strategies to cracking the big-picture puzzle of an engaging story. The more you experiment, the more sides of your story you’ll reveal until you can visualize how every piece fits together and find the jewel at the center. As you consider the possibilities, don’t be too quick to discard any, because sometimes the ideas you’re reluctant to try will help you the most.
Have you ever read a book or watched a movie where the interaction between two lovers became graphic? Or been absorbed in an adventure story and suddenly had to skim unnecessarily steamy scenes? I have, and I hate it. Not only does the sensuality rip me out of the story and make me roll my eyes, it taints the characters (and prevents me from recommending an otherwise great novel).
Few events showcase the power of redemption as beautifully as the repentance of a hardened villain. But few events undercut the nature of redemption as starkly as a villain who forsakes evil without self-reproach or fallout. Unfortunately, today’s media culture slants toward the latter. At Lorehaven, I’ve pointed out how various Marvel TV shows misrepresent redemption. But those aren’t the only offenders. Pixar’s Toy Story 4, as popular as it may be, never deals with Gabby Gabby’s manipulative tactics. And in the recent Star Wars trilogy, Kylo Ren chooses the light side during the climax without acknowledging the magnitude of his crimes.
What’s the difference between Infinity War and Age of Ultron? Why is one shocking and fantastic while the other is shallow entertainment? The producers didn’t recast half the Avengers or cross more fingers when Infinity War hit theaters. But where Age of Ultron is predictable, Infinity War is riveting. Where Age of Ultron is funny, Infinity War is impactful and humorous (props to the writers). So, why is Infinity War a winner?
Everyone enjoys turning red in the face and struggling to breathe for a few seconds after a hilarious experience. Laughter lightens your mood, reduces stress, and even improves your immune system. On a relational level, humor helps you connect with others whether you’re swapping anecdotes in the same room together or reading a character’s wisecracks from a printed page. Humor makes stories more engaging overall, as well as balances out tenser scenes.
The task of fiction writing is complicated. We make up people, places, and situations that are supposed to inspire readers to care and relate. We’re not trying to enchant anyone to the extent that they lose sight of the line between fiction and reality, but we are hoping to lift the veil of disbelief so that their imagination can run through the lush grass or the chipped pavement of worlds that don’t exist.
A little over a year ago, I signed up for a theater class. Most of the lessons focused on the techniques actors use to learn about the roles they’re portraying, which involves much more than memorizing a script. Before ever setting foot on stage, each actor identifies the goal his or her character is trying to achieve in the upcoming scene. Whether it’s as simple as asking a friend for a favor or as dramatic as attacking an enemy, the character and actor both need motivation to move from Point A to Point B.
You’re curled up in a comfy chair, happily reading, when a male character murmurs, “Oh Sally, you’re so beautiful. The thought of another day without you makes my sun go dark and the stars burn out in despair.” Or a supposedly sweet and docile female remarks, “Our neighbor sure has a sick truck. I’d like to trick my ride out like that.”
Some Christian writers believe that their characters should sprout wings—or at least tote a halo throughout the book. Others, taking the negative approach, think their characters should be devils who transform into angels (undoubtedly due to a five-minute conversation in which the understanding of spiritual realities is suddenly knocked into them). If our characters resided in heaven, this stance would be acceptable—but they don’t, and it’s about time we pushed them off the cliff into reality.
For thousands of years, audiences have been enamored with stories of heroes going on quests to save the world. From Robin Hood to Luke Skywalker to Wonder Woman, the trope’s variations are endless. But recently a new trend has taken over fiction and film. The traditional hero has been replaced with a more relatable “hero” who’s afflicted with as many flaws and vices as he is virtues (sometimes more). Instead of Saint George slaying the dragon, we encounter characters like the Punisher, a tortured man who murders bad guys in the name of justice.