The two methods to increase the drama.
The first method is to keep descriptive writing to a minimum.
Long descriptions of people, processes or a landscape can be beautiful, but they slow down the story because nothing is happening. In a small story you don’t need those descriptions. You only need a couple of details to make the story feel realistic and help learners visualise what’s happening.
So, when reviewing a training story ask yourself:
You only need enough detail to achieve these two goals.
The second method for upping the pace of a story is to slow down the action by explaining the sequence of action in more detail. This may sound counterintuitive, but when you describe actions step by tiny step the drama heightens, and the story becomes more compelling.
Think back two weeks ago to the rugby story. Instead of writing: ‘She receives the ball. She runs towards the corner. She drives through a tackle’. And as readers we wait to see if she scores a try. This is just a simple example.
Lee Child is the author of the Jack Reacher books, and he’s a master in slowing down the action to create drama and suspense. In his book ‘Die Trying’, he uses 225 words to describe the moment of a single pistol shot. So, that’s 225 words to describe less than one hundredth of a second. And it takes you about one minute to read. That’s slowing down the action.
He writes pages about pulling the trigger. With every sentence you become more anxious as a reader: What will happen? Who will be killed?
We’re not writing thrillers so we don’t need Lee Child’s skills, but we can follow his principle of slowing down the action to heighten the action.
So, here’s an example of a boring story:
Imagine a cycle ride from Christchurch to Dunedin.
You’re in Christchurch and it’s a 240-mile journey to watch a concert in Dunedin.
At the end of the journey, you feel exhausted, your back hurts, and your nerves are frayed. But, whoop, whoop. You’re just in time for the concert.
This story is boring because there’s no action, no narrative, no drama. It’s barely a story. There’s a simple way to make this story more compelling: Add more action, Let’s have a look. We can keep the opening sentence: Imagine a cycle ride form Christchurch …
Next, we add the actions you would take to prepare for the journey: You pack your bags. You check your bicycle for tyre pressure and ensure you have a spare tyre and tools.
Do you see how you can imagine the preparation for the trip? You can picture the actions… as if you’re standing next to the author checking tyre pressure. It’s almost as if you’re joining this adventure. That’s the power of visual language. There’s also a sense of anticipation. What will happen next on this long cycle trip?
Next comes the story of the road trip itself: Despite road works, discourteous in some cases dangerous motorists, and a flat tyre, you arrive in Dunedin one day later.
So, the story about the cycle trip is kept very short as it’s only the start of a training programme about cycling for health. After all it’s only a miniature story and it ends with a quick summary of the state you arrive in. You’re exhausted. Your back hurts. Your nerves are frayed.
This story continues next week.