Adding story drama to a first draft

Here’s a post at Jane Friedman’s blog: How to Move From First Draft to Second Draft to Publishable Book

This post has a fun way of framing the dramatic action of the story, thus:

To find your story’s dramatic action, use the “In a World…” test.

Think about the cheesy movie-trailer cliché. There’s a shot of alien-created devastation. Or a sunrise over a battlefield. Or a sunset over a castle. A deep voice intones:

In a world…

And tells us the hero’s intolerable dramatic situation. Overturning this situation is a high-risk, high-stakes problem.

One man… 

That’s the protagonist.


…take a dramatic action. Embark on the quest. They must do it. Not “kinda-sorta feel like doing it,” not “maybe if they have time,” they must. The action is urgent and compelling and they can’t live without taking this action. …

Chances are, if it’s hard to find your “In a world…” moment, your stakes aren’t high enough. The dramatic situation isn’t personal, or the protagonist doesn’t have enough at stake to make the story compelling.

That’s not bad! It’s a fun way to think about how to peg the dramatic action or stakes in a novel.

Here it is in one sentence:

In intolerable SITUATION, PROTAGONIST must ACTION against OBSTACLE toward GOAL or else/because STAKES.

I’ve seen this sort of format for a one-sentence summary of the book before — these elevator pitches are useful for various reasons — but I do like the idea of re-casting this sentence in the IN A WORLD WHERE mode. That’s just an entertaining way to do it.

Still not easy, though.

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