Novels trace change. Think about that. Fiction begins by making trouble for an appealing protagonist. After that, all but the darkest stories follow that protagonist through a series of changes yielding resolution, if not success, happiness and a pot of gold at rainbow’s end.
No one wants to notice those incremental changes in the protagonist. That would resemble watching the wizard work the machinery behind the curtain in the land of Oz. Change should evolve mysteriously. Yet every scene must advance the protagonist to the climax.
Tip: Justify each scene by centering it around an incremental change in your protagonist.
This is easier to execute than you might think. Try these techniques.
- Plan how the scene will affect your protagonist.
- Revise scenes to incorporate protagonist maturation.
- Coordinate external events with internal realizations.
- Let the antagonist induce growth in the protagonist.
- Use your minor characters to help the protagonist evolve.
- Mesh the external environment with your protagonist’s arc.
- Represent many kinds of change, from psychological to moral.
- Consider how small changes help deliver your theme.
- Imagine your novel without this particular scene.
This last one is the toughest, but perhaps the most instructive. Don Maass, at a Writer’s Institute at UW-Madison, said that every scene should be so essential to the whole that the entire structure collapses without it. Every scene must contribute. Every scene must capture change. That’s more credible, of course, because nothing in the world stays still. It’s also more engaging, because the protagonist’s growth inspires our own.
Yes, you might lose some scenes and have to revise others. Isn’t it worth it to have a novel that’s realistic, dramatic and haunting because it proceeds—inevitably—to its outcome?