Filling the Needs of the Story

Almost all novels tell the same basic story: a character wants something and someone or something prevents that character from achieving his goal. While telling the story, many authors throw in incident after incident to fill out the book. After a while, these incidents seem incidental, as if they are simply filling space and not filling the needs of the story.

Writing instructors and how-to-get-published books remind authors to hook readers with a great beginning. The hook should be captivating, but that’s not the end of it; the rest of the book needs to be rewarding, too. If the author fills the book with insignificant incidents, readers feel as if they are wasting their time.

I am concerned that my current work in progress is becoming a series of incidents that go nowhere. My hero keeps reacting to the world changing around him, but he isn’t proactive. He wants to be left alone, to be free, but that is a passive goal. I keep thinking he should be acting, planning, taking charge, but what can he do when each day, each hour the world is different?

Eventually, of course, he will take charge of his destiny when he escapes the human zoo, but first I have to get him there. His world needs to become so threatening that he will give up freedom for safety, but it hasn’t reached that point yet. And the only way I know to reach that point is for him to continue reacting to the changes around him. And to do that, I need to keep adding incidents. Round and round it goes.

These incidents serve the needs of the theme, they serve the needs of the story, and they serve my needs as a writer by allowing me to stretch my imagination, but I don’t know if they are significant enough to offset the hero’s lack of resolve to do something. I would hate to have future readers finish the book simply because they don’t want to waste the time they invested.

In the end, I suppose, I need to concentrate on the flow. If the story flows smoothly, then everything else will fall into place, seeming as right and as inexorable as the sun rising in the east. And if by chance an incident disrupts the flow, I can edit it out later. Or perhaps I can have the sun rising in the west. Hmm. Could be interesting. I wonder how my hero would react to that?