When doing anything there is always room for improvement. Artists will always look at their painting and want to add another brushstroke, a programmer will always look at their code and wonder if there is a more efficient way to complete a task. Writing is no exception, there is always some area that could benefit from extra thought.
Here are 7 ways to improve your story!
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1. Make Side-Characters More Important
Side-characters, as I have said in the past, are writing devices. We use them to add a new layer to the story. To make scenes darker, or lighter. Yet, we can take it further and make them more than just friends and henchmen. We can make side-characters something more to the story.
We can cross the line of being a side character and turn them into main characters. While especially prevalent in later novels in a series, it can be done in a stand-alone novel.
In doing so, you subtly introduce a character of importance by giving them a basic role to fulfil, easily shoving them to the side when something more important comes along. Only for you to later draw attention back to that side-character, framing for what they are, an essential element in the plot.
A plot twist that brings every characters attention, as well as the readers, to an unassuming side character. Whether you do this for your plot, or to make a character more interesting, you will be improving your story as a result.
2. Surprise the Reader
There is more than one way to surprise the reader.
You don’t necessarily need to create a plot twist either. While it can work to keep details hidden from the reader and reveal their connection in a spectacularly surprising fashion, one can also surprise the reader with interesting details about the plot, or a character.
For example, if you raise tension by introducing a threat to a particularly vulnerable character, the reader is going to be truly surprised when that character fights back with the ferocity of a tiger. If this character is a bunny-rabbit, it will be as humorous as it is surprising.
The core reason you want to surprise your reader from time to time is that you don’t want your story to be so predictable. If a reader knows how your story will play out from a few chapters, the amount of impact you have on them won’t be so much. That’s not to say your story won’t be any good, but this is just one way to improve it.
Personally, surprising a reader is of great importance to much of my writing. I loathe predictability, which tends to clash a lot with my writing as I know what will happen next at all times. In order to make the writing process work, I always try to do something different, to make logical, read well, but also surprise myself and hopefully the reader too.
3. Cut the Boring Bits Out
One method that works better with certain genres than others, but certainly a method to consider nonetheless.
It’s very easy when structuring a story to piece two scenes together with one of little importance, or worse, little interest. You as a writer should keep a tight grip on your reader, keep them invested because if you let up a little they might yawn their disinterest at the boring paragraph you wrote.
If you can’t make a scene more interesting or create an entirely new scene to replace it, then it might be better to find a way to cut it out. There are many ways we can gain reader interest, but if it can’t be done naturally in that scene, it’s not even worth writing the scene in the first place.
Don’t be afraid of lowering your word count. In cases like these, less is more.
4. Give the Antagonist a Chance
Next, don’t make it so easy for your protagonist and hard for your antagonist.
Your antagonist should not hit so many obstacles, they should not be so beaten down that by the time they have the final conflict with the protagonist they are no more than a soft punching bag. Give your antagonist a chance to show who they are, to show their strengths, to show what they are all about.
You might think it counterintuitive to spend so much time making your antagonist look good, but let me put it this way.
If you climb a small hill, you exert yourself, but not so much. When you tell others, or others see you do it, they won’t think much of it and forget it ever happened. However, if you climb a fearsome mountain, exerting yourself all the way, you will find that people stand up and pay attention.
By giving your antagonist a chance, you are making that hill into a mountain, thus making the protagonist a more admirable character for overcoming such a challenge.
5. Create More Conflict
It’s not only the antagonist that creates all the conflict.
Conflict can spring up anywhere and between anyone. Your protagonists could argue, they could fight and there can be some surprising resolutions. By the same token, the antagonists might have such interesting developments as well.
Conflict is in our nature. We all get frustrated, hurt, upset and want to last out. Some let off steam by creating something, others let it off by destroying something. In many stories we read, it is often the latter. A character is tense, ready to burst and all it takes is the slightest prod for them to blow up, even if it is a tiny prod from someone on their side.
By creating more conflict, you add some realism and uniqueness to your story. A character might grow from it, making them more interesting, or a character might lose something from it, making them less important in the later chapters. There are many endings to conflicts, thus many amazing stories.
When in doubt, create more conflict.
6. Try a New Perspective
Your protagonist might have a lot going on, but there might be moments where another character has a far more interesting or important scene.
In which case, don’t be afraid to switch perspective. If there is some aspect of the story that you believe is interesting and adds to your story, don’t make that character mention it casually in dialogue. Show it by switching to when it happened. You can do this via a flashback moment, or by switching to them as the scene is happening in the plot.
A new perspective takes the spotlight away from the main character and puts it on a character of interest. The break from the main character will help open the reader’s mind to the perspective of other characters, thus giving them more depth when they are talked about or appear later on.
You will see this a lot in books where there is more than one clear protagonist, but it can also be done now and then for both the sake of the character and/or for the reader’s enjoyment.
7. Change a Character
Finally, change a character.
By changing a character I don’t mean suddenly make them act different, or even start from scratch. You only really do that if the character isn’t working out and they no longer fit the direction you are going for. Much like firing a misbehaving actor/actress because they don’t work well on set and hiring someone better.
No, by changing a character I mean growing them, developing them into someone better, or wiser, or worse. It depends on the kind of character you have to work with, but by making them change and develop throughout your story you make them more interesting and realistic.
We all learn lessons from the experiences we have, from our understandings of people and how the world works. Your characters should have such human behaviour as well, they should learn from their mistakes, or show empathy for another character.
Next, what they do with that information should be made clear as well. Do they use it to help, or to hinder? Either way, they will most likely improve themselves or their standing, not to mention your story.
These were just some of the ways you can improve your story. Many might already be using it, some might even be a core part of your writing style. However, if any of these methods helped you in some way, then I am truly glad.
With every story I write or book I read, I always learn a little something I carry with me and use in my future work. In some cases, I notice a flaw in my writing, or in my planning, I then strive to avoid making the same mistakes. In better instances, I learn something that benefits my story, making it even better.
Of course, such lessons I refine and present to you, where they can hopefully be of some use or inspiration.
Good day, goodnight and happy writing!