I was listening to the Writing Excuses Podcast the other day in my car, when I came across this fantastic nugget of advice about how to do chapters/scenes. How do you move forward from one chapter to the next? You need to know how to develop the connective tissue and keep driving the story forward. This simple trick will take you a long way to developing a story that has momentum. You simply ask a question, is the protagonist going to accomplish his/her goal in this chapter? You have two answers obviously, Yes or No. The trick is thus: Yes, But and No, And. Every chapter/scene needs to have a reason to exist other than you thought up some really cool world building stuff that you want to show off. The Yes, but will allow you to finish minor story arcs but keep propelling the story forward. For example, your group needs to cross a bridge in this chapter. Will they make it across? Yes, but on the other side they encounter a group of ruffians.
Conversely, if you go the other way you can move the story along but “up the stakes.” Are they going to make it across the bridge in this scene? No, and in fact there is a group of ruffians coming up behind them now and they need to come up with a new plan. You get the idea here.
Every scene should be moving the story along. It’s is fine to have a few down moments to allow the reader to catch their breath, for example, the group is successful at making it across the bridge and make camp for the night, but they see smoke on the horizon signaling that the group that is chasing them will be here by morning, so they will need to moving before too long. It will give you some “campfire time” to do some reflection and perhaps bring in some back story or maybe some foreshadowing for the coming scenes.
This is something I am toying with in the new thing I’m doing called outlining. It is actually helpful in laying out the plan and moving from one chapter to the next, actually ahead of time. That’s not to say this locks me in to anything. I reserve the right to change the story as it comes to me, and to change the outline again as a result, but it is a very useful tool in our bag of tricks.