Fortunately for us attendees, the second workshop of this year's PNWA conference, Creating Page Tuners with Robert Dugoni wasn't the contact sport pictured above. Instead, it was an informative and lively seminar on how to create a "missed my stop" book.
We didn't have time to go through the 13-page handout Bob provided, but we managed to touch on some key elements--
The primary function of a novelist is to ENTERTAIN.
Writers stop entertaining their readers when they:
2. Put too much research material into the narrative
3. Use overblown prose
4. Have same-sounding characters
5. Use too much backstory
6. Use too much flashback
These are called "author intrusions" and should be eliminated. It is the characters who should tell the story.
And what exactly, is a story?
It's a journey, which can be physical, or emotional. In either case, the journey yanks the character out of his ordinary world and "puts him in motion."
There's a method of telling a story that resonates with people: The mythic journey. Our earliest myths and fables use this template--and as a result, these stories continue to entertain. One of the best sources that examines this template is Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers.
Another way to grab and maintain a reader's attention is by using High Concept ideas. This doesn't necessarily mean an apocalyptic menace threatens the character's civilization, but it does mean the stakes are high for the character. A policewoman trying to solve a murder case is merely a professional doing her job. Whereas, a mother trying to find her abducted daughter is high concept.
Employing high concept ideas will torture the protagonist throughout the story. If things appear to be going well, then pull the rug out from under the hero. During this journey, the character will learn new skills in order to overcome the obstacles set before him--he'll change. Conflict and change are the heart of every story.
And without a heart, a story remains lifeless.
In addition to being a best-selling author, Robert Dugoni is available for speaking engagements, seminars and workshops like this one.