This tip is an offshoot of yesterday’s, which related to maintaining a strong sense of space and time. Flashbacks are often important to your story. They provide background, either to events or the character’s experience base as it relates to the plot. Entering and exiting a flashback properly is important, again so you don’t lose your reader.
Thus, if you end a chapter or section with a flashback, be sure to take the reader back to the present so they’re not lost when the story returns to its normal time frame. This can be done at the flashback’s conclusion or at the beginning of the next section, whichever works better. It goes without saying you should do this clearly if it’s mid-section or mid-chapter as well.
This is another tip that makes sure you keep your reader engaged and thus avoid any confusion that throws them out of the story. When you start a new chapter or section, if a significant amount of time has passed, be sure to tell the reader so s/he doesn’t think something was missed or lost.
A sense of time and place is important to a story. It’s one of the things that grounds your reader. If this is unclear and they feel lost, you may lose them entirely. If they have to go back and reread something, or conversely, keep reading while scratching their head until it’s more clear, you have failed in your execution. Frustration or not feeling comfortably entrenched in a story does not contribute to a positive reading experience.
As an author, such things may be perfectly clear to you, but make sure your transitions are such you don’t leave your reader behind, eating your dust.
Another thing to watch for when you get to your second draft is showing as opposed to telling. Some narrative is always required, but often it can be said in a more interesting way that engages your reader.
For example, saying “He was angry” is telling. Saying “His eyes bore into his opponent like steel rods, fists clenched and trembling at his side” shows it. Note how the second version renders the emotion in a more relatable manner. It also contains imagery. In fact, of the IDEAS described in yesterday’s Tip, it includes imagery, emotion, action, and suspense. If it were included in the midst of dialog, it would cover that, too. See how much more effective that is?
If your novel becomes a series, bear in mind that not all readers will start with book one. Describe your characters again and recap key plot elements. Loyal readers will appreciate the refresher.
Probably the biggest author faux pas is leaving a reader feeling lost, which also tends to throw them out of the story. If they have to stop and backtrack (which is especially difficult and annoying when you’re reading an ebook), it may be because they forgot or it could be you didn’t state it clearly enough. If a reader starts with book two or three of a series, this is especially likely to happen if you don’t do an instant replay of key events in a previous book.
Even those who have read the stories in sequence can use a refresher. It’s highly unlikely that you are the only author they read. Thus, they have probably read other stories between them, especially if a span of time elapsed before the next book was released. They will likewise be more comfortable with the story with a few reminders.
Remember that the basic conflicts in fiction as well as life are man vs. man; man vs. nature; and man vs. self. The more of each that you bring into your plot, the more vehicles you have for building plot as well as suspense.
Your protagonist has to work for what he wants and the harder the struggle, the stronger your reader’s engagement will be. In most plots, there will be an overlap of at least two. Be sure to recognize them for what they are.