Flat or Lively?

When you read over your copy, does it seem flat? Does your story carry a blah aspect? Do you feel that it’s close to being where you want it, yet something’s missing?

Chances are that you’ve made two fundamental mistakes: a passive protagonist and insufficient scene conflict.

The passive protagonist may be a decent human being, may be skilled and knowledgeable, and may be capable of fending off attacking zombies with a good chance of survival. However, if this character isn’t initiating action or isn’t taking charge of the story situation, then he or she is just following at the heels of someone else.

That does not a hero make.

When you put your protagonist in charge, you will instinctively change aspects of his or her personality to some degree. You will find this character now has a purpose in mind, now has things to do–even if she’s interrupted by the story problem. This character becomes much more interesting to readers.

Lack of conflict within a scene will automatically weaken it and prevent it from achieving its fullest dramatic potential. If your protagonist waits for someone else to wander by and suggest what should be done, and then the two of them take that action without any disagreement, and they find themselves working together in complete accord, there is nothing (dramatically) happening!

Scenes of conflict can occur between two people on the same side, working together toward a common cause or objective. Just because they’re allies doesn’t mean they have to agree about what to do or when to do it. They can disagree on the approach or the timing or one may want an explanation that the other one doesn’t want to supply. Conflict can be mild, but it still needs to fuel the scene in some way.

Remember that agreement between characters is dull.

Also, without conflict a scene has nowhere to go. As a result, you may have planned your story but it will read like you’re moving your characters from one event on your checklist to the next. The characters must appear to move the story by making plans, disagreeing on how to implement the plan, attempting to carry it out, failing or partially failing because of opposition stronger than expected, and then reacting to the new problems.

Scenes without sufficient conflict generally end without setbacks. And setbacks are necessary to force a protagonist to take subsequent risks in order to reach the story’s climax.

Flat and dull, or lively and exciting?

The choice is yours to make.

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