Writing Rules #6 – The Cost of Success

Writing Critique Groups are great!

I just received a helpful email from Amy in my writing group.
It was very helpful to me because it was succinct, almost like a rule.
Her note also covers the topic of Scenes vs Sequels, which I found equally helpful.

Amy said, “…there are scenes, and there are sequels. In a scene, the protagonist
is actively seeking some path toward his ultimate goal, and there’s conflict
between the protagonist and that scene’s antagonist. The protagonist is
seeking his goal and the antagonist is standing in the way… If the
protagonist does succeed in moving toward his goal, usually there should
be some cost: a curious plot twist, a new enemy…

A sequel is the in-between period, where the protagonist has an
emotional reaction. She considers the new development or information
and decides what to do next. The length of the sequel actually controls
the pace of the story. Short scenes and long sequels give a story a
slow, reflective pace; long scenes and short sequels make a story fast-paced.”

I had never before heard the rule that if a character succeeds in moving another step toward a goal, then there should be some type of cost.

Now I see how correct that advice is. This will add drama to a story because without continuing to pile on conflicts, the story could become boring.

Here’s a summary of a scene from my novel, The Smart Kid:
Charleen is the school counselor. She is trying to uncover information from a secretive boy named Matthew. But during the conversation, instead of Matt revealing his secrets to her, he discerned some of her secrets about the death of her husband and son. She is distraught that he so easily uncovered her secrets and is a bit offended at him for this reason.
But then Matt points out that she is trying to do the same thing to him: uncover his secrets.
In other words, she must give up something in order to get something.
Then, as a further example of this principle, Matt agrees to reveal more of his secrets if she proves her trustworthiness by helping him with his own investigation of another student. She really wants information from Matt, so she agrees to help.
Success costs something to the protagonist.


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