Whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, there is one mistake nearly every writer does, including experienced ones. It’s a concept of your writing goal, be it one paragraph, one chapter, or whole sections of the manuscript. When plotting (outlining) your book, you have a series of events carefully planned out. Therefore, it’s logical when you’re writing that your main goal of the chapter is to meet an event. Which makes the work already sound pretty textbook and dry, doesn’t it?
Maybe you need your main character to get into a car accident so he can meet a nurse, his future wife, in the next chapter. Maybe you want your main character to run away from home. Or maybe you’re just trying to set up some world lore for your fantasy, and you have a particularly complicated bit of information you intend to teach the reader in this chapter.
Even when pantsing a novel, you’ll still have a minor level of outlining going on in your head. You think, okay, what’s going to happen next? And then you simply move on to the next plot point. You have these cut and dry goals, and while necessary for the bones of the novel, it’s a mistake to write with that as the primary agenda.
While every chapter should have goals to further the plot and delve our readers deeper into our world, there must be one goal above all else: Emotional Impact.
Think about what continuously draws you back to your favorite series. It’s probably a list of reasons, but the main one is your emotional investment with the characters, am I right? Without that, it probably wouldn’t matter how fascinating or well-written the novel is, if you’re not emotionally invested, you’re just plain not invested.
That’s why when writing, we need to keep this goal in the forefront of our minds. How is the main character taking the events going on on a personal level? What are his or her goals? What motivates him or her to make the decision that leads to the next plot point?
Understanding these character foundations will go a long way with the reader. The reader won’t feel like they’re just watching the events unfold, but they’ll feel the events as if it were happening to them. And that’s the difference between a flop, and a bestseller.
This post is inspired by the teachings of literary agent Paula Munier in her new book, Writing With Quiet Hands.