Straight-line plots work well for short stories, but novels can use several subplots to maintain interest and build suspense. The more developed your characters are, the easier it is to find them. Once your characters come to life, they have a mind of their own and can say and do things that surprise even you. Don’t limit your muse’s ability to inspire you by insisting that your characters behave in a certain way or never do something unexpected. Just think: If it surprises you, won’t it also be interesting to your readers?
As an author, I love it when one of my characters essentially gets out of control. If I don’t know what will happen next, sure that suspense will translate to my readers. It add to the fun of being an author when you don’t know what will happen next, either. There have been times when my characters got themselves into such a mess I had no idea how they’d ever get out. So what did I do? I let them figure it out, and they always did.
I’m always disappointed when what could be a juicy, complex plot is never fully developed. The author sets up intriguing possibilities that are never explored and quietly disappear. I’ve seen great premises with best seller potential fall flat for lack of detail.
I suppose some people enjoy a quick read and don’t mind a straight-line plot with a predictable ending. I prefer a story that not only draws me in to the plot and characters, but one that shows the author put some thought into the story, beyond that first flash of creativity.
In some cases, if there will be a sequel to explore neglected plot elements, this can work. However, don’t tease the reader with plot twists that never materialize, then drop them, as if it was too much trouble to work them in. A book that doesn’t wrap up all the loose ends is similar, unless it’s deliberate and used as a cliff hanger.
Never make it too easy or obvious for your character to get what s/he wants. The more obstacles you place in their way, the more interesting and suspenseful the story. When you don’t know what will happen, chances are your reader won’t either.
Sometimes when things seem to be going too well, it can actually add suspense, at least for a while, because the readers will anticipate things are going to crash. A classic example I can think of for this is the TV show, Scorpion. What always starts out as what they expect will be a simple job inevitably turns into the worst-case scenario. This is what builds suspense and makes the story more interesting. It’s also the way that life seems to work.
Keep a notepad handy everywhere to jot down ideas, whether for a new story, plot twist, or vivid description. The more convenient it is, the more likely you’ll do so. Like so many other things, it’s use it or lose it. How often have you thought of a clever way to describe something just before you fell asleep, thinking you’d remember, but it was long-gone in the morning? Don’t lose those previous literary jewels!