I need to “revise and extend” my last Critique Technique post.
Last time I wrote that things should be worse for the protagonist at the end of each section (or scene) or chapter of an article, short story, or novel than they were at the beginning. Well, that’s not entirely true. In a longer piece, and particularly in a short part of that piece, that may not be possible, or desirable.
Letting the scene’s or chapter’s protagonist make a little progress, or seem to make progress, has its benefits:
- The reader is encouraged, and so wants to read further.
- That progress gives the author more opportunities to make things worse for the protagonist: one step forward makes room for the two steps backward to come. (There we writers go again, being evil and devious!)
- If the scene’s protagonist is the story’s antagonist, or even a secondary character, letting him make progress toward his goals can be a direct or indirect way to make things worse for the story’s protagonist. (Oh, what a tangled web we weave!)
The bottom line, then, is that in every chapter or scene, something has to happen that changes the situation for the characters involved. The change can be large or small. Its size doesn’t have to match the length of the scene or chapter, although a small change over the course of a long chapter or section may not go over so well. As a reviewer, you’re looking for that change and whether the story moved forward because of it.