On this blog every Tuesday and Friday I write about story techniques, structure, and/or publishing. Comments and questions are welcome. I also have a personal blog, Amy Deardon, on which I write about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy.

I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research.

My book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story, is now available in both hard-copy and e-book formats. I also coach would-be novelists and screenwriters to develop their story. YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Power of the Withhold

The Power of The Withhold

The three essential story elements are GOAL, STAKES, and OBSTACLES.

Goal -- the main driving force of the story, answered by a yes or no.
Stakes -- why achieving the goal is so important.
Obstacles -- things or people that get in the way of the character's achieving his goal.

Without obstacles, story doesn't have TENSION. Obstacles can be internal -- within the character, things such as emotions or lack of knowledge. External obstacles are in the story world -- physical barriers, other people, and so forth.

A good general technique to use when developing tension is the WITHHOLD. Remember that your character has many goals, desires, and dreams, and these will be pushing the story forward either directly or indirectly. Frustration in achieving one or more things develops tension and keeps the reader riveted to your story.

What can you withhold?

A common withhold is INFORMATIONAL WITHHOLD. Your main character needs to know something -- the location of something, or a vital key to the puzzle -- that is not forthcoming.

Another common withhold is OBJECT WITHHOLD. The character is trying to catch something -- a person on a train, a paper that keeps being carried off -- and always finds he has to do just *one more thing* to get it.

Note that with these two types of withholds (information, object) you can prolong the search for awhile, but make sure you don't tease the reader too long. It gets annoying. As you prolong the search you must always remember to raise the stakes, put more in jeopardy, and change the nature of the search so that it doesn't become the same old same old.

A third category of the withhold that can be used to create sympathy even for an unlikeable character is the EMOTIONAL WITHHOLD. Your character has an emotional need -- freedom from fear, true love, righteous duty -- that is consistently frustrated. Unlike the information or object withholds, this type of withhold CAN continue unchanged, with repeated incidences, throughout the story. It becomes rocket fuel for the reader to root for righteous causes, or even in a twisted way for unsavory actions to succeed, as he hopes against hope that before the end of the story the character's emotional pain might be extinguished.

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