Writing: Triggers that move the plot

Friends keep asking me how my romance novel is coming. It’s coming. I think I only have about 50 more pages to write before I finish the first draft. Is it ready to go? No. I need to go back and “fill in.” I’m a bare bones writer–if I get the characters and plot points right in the first draft, I’m happy. Every scene has to have some kind of tension. There has to be Goal, Motivation, Conflict for each scene. But that’s not enough. Once I get that down, I go back a second time to add emotion, reactions, descriptions, and internal dialogue. Am I happy with what I have? Yes. Do I think I got it right? Beats me. Romance feels “spongy” to me. The things that trigger forward movement in the story are alien to me.

Every type of writing has different triggers. When I wrote mystery short stories, the focus of the story was on who did it and why. Each scene advanced that. I introduced the crime, the detective (amateur or sleuth), suspects, witnesses, and clues. I could judge by those triggers how the story was advancing. What did the detective learn when he went to question Suspect A? Did that clue lead him to an answer or was it a red herring that threw him off track? When the person he thought committed the crime ended up dead, he had to start over and re-evaluate what he’d learned, etc. Each step leads to the next one in the plot. With urban fantasy, I introduce the good guys and the evil that they have to battle. They win one small skirmish, but that leads them to a bigger problem. They confront that problem and that digs them deeper into trouble. Those are triggers I understand and feel comfortable with. In literary novels, the triggers are internal. They’re about character development. How does the character change throughout the story?

In romance, the triggers are emotional. Ian’s arm brushes Tessa’s breast and Want sweeps through her. She denies it and pushes it away. But when their eyes meet, she can’t turn away. She never meant to let down her guard again, but Ian shatters her defenses. These are triggers that show Tessa’s growing attraction for Ian. Do I feel comfortable writing an entire novel driven by mounting emotions? In truth, it’s been fun. Have I done it right? I don’t have a clue. But every novel is moved forward by triggers that escalate from the beginning of the story to a big, dark moment near the end, and finally, a happy or unhappy ending. In romances, it had better be a happy ever after. A writer can track how his story is progressing by following these triggers to see how they push the protagonist’s buttons–the bigger the reaction, (even if it’s controlled or denied), the better. Tension needs to build and build until there’s a resolution.

Whatever you’re working on, I hope your plot points push the protagonist harder and farther than he ever wanted to go.


P.S. I wanted to add a reminder that Sia Marion at http://sia4215.blogspot.com/ invited me to participate in the World Tour Blog. I invited M L Rigdon from the blog: http://historyfanforever.wordpress.com/. Mary Lou writes a variety of genres, all on her webpage: http://www.mlrigdon.com/. She recently finished her third Regency romance as Julia Donner. I also invited Susan Bahr from her blog: http://suebahr.wordpress.com/. I’ve followed Susan’s blog for a long time, but she just started this new one about writing. I like her approach! I hope you remember to check out their posts on Tuesday on how they write. I’m going to!

2 thoughts on “Writing: Triggers that move the plot

  1. Hi just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let you know a few of the images aren’t loading properly.
    I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue. I’ve tried
    it in two different browsers and both show the same outcome.


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