Sunday, July 7, 2013

Every Novel’s an Adventure Story

Say a woman walks the Lake Michigan shore. Call her Evangeline, because she’s a bit 19th century and fancies herself a scientist of sorts, a fossil hunter. The chill wind cuts right through her blouse; she’s not dressed for this walk. Evangeline continues on, anyway. Something magnetizes her about this rock outcrop, so different from the rest of the beach with its glittery sand, its heaps of polished stones in myriad colors and shapes. The smooth slabs here are cut into hundreds of tiny steps, a landscape so intriguing that she willingly endures stench from the dead smelt washed up in the many little crevasses.

The rock so captivates Evangeline that she nearly misses the sign describing it. Now it’s all clear. Silurian dolomite, from 440 – 350 million years ago, the sign explains—and rare on the Lake Michigan shore. She got that part right. Dreamily, she walks on, curling her toes around bedrock, mind fixated on the ice age, the glacier’s slow slide, the corals and maybe trilobites that formerly thrived in the warm sea that once flowed here. Her reverie’s so deep that she nearly misses the slab where you can see the tiny whorls the coral made. Finally, a fossil—a whole tablet of them. She’s made sense of the landscape. What more could she ask?

What more could a reader ask? Consider the elements of Evangeline’s journey:

~ Setting: Both gorgeous and captivating.
~ Conflict: Why does this differ from the rest?
~ Distraction: Is my eye on what’s important?
~ Momentum: Will I ever solve this?
~ Clue: This is what you’ve been looking at.
~ Ah-Ha Moment: The fun of finding the last piece for the puzzle you’ve played with.

Evangeline’s journey is the basic journey every novel reader experiences. Even if the protagonist lives centuries, even planets away from this search for fossils, each shares hunger for new adventures, and, ultimately, for clarity. Readers want that, too, and it’s so easy to make your reader’s happiness rival Evangeline’s. Here’s all you need:

·         Intrigue with premises, possibly false.
·         Breed hypotheses, possibly true.
·         Plant clues, for both protagonist and reader.
·         Make the protagonist heroic yet vulnerable.
·         Make the reader both worry over and feel confident about the protagonist.
·         Tempt with side trips and false alarms.
·         Increase the level of difficulty, for both protagonist and reader.
·         Mislead. Just enough so it’s not cheating.
·         Provide the missing evidence.

Tip: Not every novel’s about fossils. But every novel’s about finding mysterious, half-hidden treasures. Make the fictional journey an adventure, not just for the protagonist, but for the reader.

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