When you write a story, there are certain things readers expect. They want the story to grow. The main character should be challenged by something to make it interesting, after all, who wants to read about everyday life? We’re already living it. They want the main character to take charge and meet the challenge. Perhaps they solve a murder, or take down a group of terrorists. Or maybe they fall in love. No matter what your story is about, your main character should follow a map that directs the story.
You don’t necessarily need that map already diagrammed out in your head or on paper before you write, but if you don’t, you need to hold your story up to close scrutiny to see where it falls short.
What is the challenge that faces your character? Can they face it alone? Do they need help? Do they doubt themselves? How do they react when this challenge hits them in the face? Is it realistic or does your character solve every new problem by the end of the chapter? Does your pacing match the growing issue in the story?
Do you give your readers a break with something calming between heart-pounding scenes? Sometimes it’s nice to have a little breather so you’re ready to let the suspense build again. Does your character grow and learn? Do they come into their own and take charge? Or do you have someone coming in to rescue them at the last minute?
Going through your story either before or after you’ve written your first draft and mapping out the arc of the story, the characters, the chapters, and so on will give your readers a more satisfying journey.
If you take a look at ancient stories, they still follow the same arc. Story begins. Something happens. Main character reacts. Something else happens. Main character must decide to take charge because they’re the only one who can do it. Main character pursues the murderer, kills the monster, defeats evil, finds true love, etc. Everyone lives happily ever after, or at least, as happy as they can according to their circumstances. The reader finally puts the book down, happy with the journey they’ve just taken.
Subplots can fill any gaps and help tie major scenes together. Mapping out your story will show you where you need to strengthen those weak points or add a key element you forgot.
Mapping out can be done on the computer with a spreadsheet program, on a white board with markers, on a pad of paper or with post-its. Use what works for you. Jot down brief scene descriptions and place them in order. Use colored markers or change colors on the computer if it helps you track various story lines or characters. This will show you if you’ve leaned too heavily on your main character’s best friend or if you made a giant leap from one scene to another and dropped the plot ball.
Post-its or writing on white boards can work wonders for some writers, because it is easy to move scenes around if necessary. The end result is you get a map that leads you through your story so you can tighten it up and make it shine.