4 Tips for Increasing Intensity in Your Plot

Developing a strong plot is a vital part of writing a successful novel. In the Novelist’s Essential Guide to Creating Plot, J. Madison Davis, whose novel “The Murder of Frau Schutz” was nominated for an Edgar Award, explains the basics of a good plot, covering everything from integrating characters and plot to building your plot’s level of intensity as the story progresses:

“As readers move through time with each step farther along in the progression of a plot, they expect the tension to build to higher levels of excitement. They expect the story to become more intense at each step along the way, until the climax or resolution. … A story that does not rise usually gives the impression that nothing is happening, even though there may be a great many things described in the scene.”

Here are four excerpted tips to make sure your scene gives off the right intense impression:

1. Cliff-hanging. For centuries, a favorite technique of writers has been to end a chapter by breaking the last scene before it reaches a climax then presenting the climax later. You can also use the cliff-hanging technique to help the forward motion of your novels.

2. The tag line. A character speaking at the end of a chapter might promise interesting things in the pages to follow. Numerous authors also end their chapters (or story units) in mid-dialogue. … Think of your tag lines in this way, as cues to further action in your plot.

3. Leitmotifs. Another technique for building intensity during the long journey of a novel is to use repeating images, phrases, themes and thoughts. As each repeats, it registers more strongly with the reader, creating a cumulative effect, as well as contributing to the impression of the plot as a whole unit.

4. The pause that refreshes. Increasing intensity is crucial to an effective plot, but it is possible to reach a point of diminishing returns. … Any lengthy or large work of art needs shifts in tone and intensity to maintain interest.

Learn more about The Novelist’s Essential Guide to Creating Plot.

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