I was reading an on-line column (Writer's Digest, Thomas Young) about plotting. According to Young, a writer must ask at least one of the following questions:
- What is wrong in my character's world that needs to be put right?
- What does my character want and what does he need to do to get it?
- What event propelled my character to go on this journey?
He goes on to talk about how some writers want to write about a particular place, or person, but without any conflict or direction.
I know writers who craft beautiful prose (that makes me jealous) but their stories are absent of conflict, which is what turns pages. I love reading books like that, but without conflict there really isn't any reason to turn the page.
Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is very heavy on description and narrative and does get slow at times, but he knows how to weave conflict into this three-volume work. There is the over-arching conflict of the coming war and destroying the ring, then sub-plots like Saruman and the Rowan-Gondor conflict, and then little conflicts like Gandalf and Bilbo arguing about the fate of the ring, or the four Hobbits' trip across the old forest. It's a long trilogy, but it's a page turner.
I look at my own techno-thriller and I'm glad to see my conflict present.
On a related note, Sue Grafton had some good advice in a 2010 interview with Writer's Digest (Diana Page Jordan). She talked about how a new writer will write one book and want to market it to agents and publishers. She tells writers to "give yourself time to get better." This is exactly what Mark Twain advised in his autobiography. Too many writers want to jump on board and write a bestseller without putting in their time and due diligence. Again, I know writers who do this. They won't bother with short stories because they don't pay but while they don't pay, but they garner three important intangibles: exposure, experience, credentials. Those will pay off in the end. It's like the tortoise and the hare, and we all know how that ended.