Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

Quick tip for fiction writers: threat and more threat

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Aug• 22•20

Fiction is action, conflict, threat, repercussions from conflict, and more threat. Since fiction is based on threat–something bad might happen to the protagonist and other characters– the tension this causes keeps your stories sizzling, makes that element real. Along with suspense, it makes readers turn pages.

The beauty of writing fiction is that the real world offers up a stunning array of threats all the time. Just check your news feed. More than 500 fires are raging across California, many caused by lightning strikes.

The US Post Office is being dismantled and hindered for political purposes. This threatens people who received prescriptions by mail as one example. The threat increases if the medication is needed for a life-threatening illness.

Conspiracy nuts who apparently have little interest in reality (they have my sympathy there)  have invented QAnon–a wide-ranging, lunatic theory that believes an elite group of cannibalistic pedophiles are taking over the US government. This must come as a blow to beef ranchers and vegans, but I digress.

Meanwhile, two hurricanes are heading for the US shores, Iowa has suffered massive crop losses from a derecho. (Am I the only one who never heard of this storm type?) And then there’s the COVID pandemic stealing and wrecking  lives all over the planet.

Threat is all around us, but it needs to haunt your characters, spur your characters, breathe in your story with an ever-present potency. Threat makes characters vulnerable and we all hate feeling vulnerable–which is why fiction is addictive.

Now, all stories can slow down from time to time, provide breathers for the readers, even places to set down the book. And of course good things can happen to your characters and happy endings might conclude the whole shebang.

But please don’t forget: In all fiction at least one character has everything to lose and the reader never forgets that.

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