Fiction happens in waves. Like the ocean.
Think about this as you write – it’s "continuity" or "story development."
The writer stands in the waves with the reader. The beach is pleasant and clean.
When you are, say, 10 yards out, the waves seem mild and regular. You enjoy the relaxing effect of their sound and even their regularity. These “first waves” provide the regular background "music" for the symphony that is your story - a pleasant interlude giving description, concept, dialogue and characterization.
Now, if that’s your entire story, first waves are enough, for sometimes an interlude is sufficient. (Stream of consciousness maybe?) However, if your story has a conflict or two, limiting to first waves is unwise.
Bear with me, writer, as my analogy is apt. However, you’ll need to use lots of imagination if you’ve never “body surfed” in high waves. (My cred: body surfing at Windansea Beach at the base of Nautilus Street in San Diego.)
After conflict, the story ventures beyond pleasant calf-tickling waters and the reader has to adjust to rapid changes in temperature and undercurrent. Dramatic forewarning is built in with urgent sounds of waves that lie ahead. Especially if, as with Windansea, where cross-current produce waves eight to ten feet high or more.
Looking ahead, the reader faces the proverbial “point of no return”, racing feet against undercurrents which, by now, are pulling strongly back to shore. Yet the reader plows on, trying to ignore irritating waves which toss back and pull forth in crazy rhythm.
At this point, the conflict has been set and myriad details are complicating the story. Lost, the reader overcomes uncertainty by facing ever-larger waves which approach in some regularity. For example, every seventh wave seems mammoth.
Now the story’s undulations strike the reader across the chest, tossing back and forth, but the stalwart soul presses on, maintaining self-control. At this point, it seems impossible to set the book down. The story is fully in control.
Suddenly the bottom falls away and the water is too deep. Afloat, the reader is at the mercy of the raging sea. Swimming as strongly as possible against raging shore-bound currents, we proceed with foreboding to six feet foot high waves which are virtually impossible to ignore. Treading water is no solution – for we would be summarily back to shore. Ducking under does the same.
The intrepid reader seeks closure in our story and it’s too early to close the covers in an effort to forget the dilemma.
In the water, our fearless reader has to make a difficult choice. Choice one is to leap into a horizontal dive through the oncoming wave – now eight feet high. This is not diving down to the bottom. It is diving into an uncontrollable force and swimming through the wave with body parallel to the sand below.
The reader is facing problems squarely, bravely, pressing on and never looking back. Yet this is hardly a way to end the story. Few authors would leave the reader to struggle with recurring problems, never coming to a conclusion or climax.
Choice 2. Instead, at some point - perhaps on the seventh wave, the reader struggles up the back of the wave and pushes to the top. There, above everything, the struggle is to mount the rounded top as it breaks into a curl. Twisting, the swimmer aligns until shoulder blades ride just behind the curl. Like magic we are propelled on top of the waves and transported into magnificence. The wave tosses us like a rocket back toward those starting waves.
But a story can end with repercussions. In the same way, the wave inevitably sucks our body down and drives us into a blind, twisting turmoil as it unrolls its life, crashing us bodily into the sand.
We rise from the water, the final crash so stunning that sand is driven into the very stitching if our swimwear.
The ordeal is finished. The story is over. We walk away, still feeling the impact. Perhaps we even go back into the bookstore and start another story.
Writers - think of this sequence. Do your stories limit readers to pleasant beach waves? Do you lure them deep within conflicts and complications? Once there, do you motivate them to rise above the problems to see the blue horizon, only to feel themselves thrust back with the rest of us to face life’s cruel realities?
Which and where are you?