Have you ever been attracted to a book because of the cover, read the first page and bought it, but later became disappointment because the story fizzled? I know I have. What went wrong? The writer didn't measure, cut, and trim to build a story that grew with tension and conflict.
You don't want your book to ever disappoint your readers. Yes, I know you can't please everyone, but you can please a great deal of people by crafting a story that is rich with well-developed characters, a plot that grows in depth and tension, and a climax that satisfies.
How do you do this? I have yet to find a magic formula that works for everyone. I have several suggestions that might help you find a fit for your writing style. Some writers like a conflict grid, some use mapping, and others outline.
Archeologists use grids to help them unearth fossils and other treasures hidden in the earth. For the writer, a grid can help you unearth your characters. You can set up your grid in a way that is easiest for you to work with, but you might like a column for each character. Because of my background in accounting, I use a grid like a spread sheet keeping the left-hand column for headings. Some headings could be: Inner Conflict, Outer Conflict, Life Goals, Immediate Goals, Most at Stake, and etc. Now fill in your grid with wonderful flaws and strengths for each character. Using a grid is great for seeing your characters inner and outer flaws all at once. You can see where you need one character to playoff of the strength of another. You can see if you have too many characters acting in the same way. Using a grid is a good way to measure the strength of your characters and fill in where they are lacking.
You can use mapping for character development, character relationships and plotting.This can be done like a pedigree chart or a spiral. Lines are used to connect each element. For instance, what if your main character had a serious illness in his youth, which gave him a weak heart, which developed into a heart attack later in life? Lines would connect "illness in youth" to "weak heart" to "heart attack". Using a mapping chart or spiral for relationships you can connect characters following who is the father, son, sister, brother and etc. For plot mapping you can actually graphed tension in your story by connecting one plot point to the next plot point. Each should build to the final climatic scene.
Many don't outline because they feel it kills creativity, however, who says you have to stick to the outline? It's not like you have a teacher standing over your shoulder. Outlines can help you stay on course, but you can also find flaws in your story because of an outline. You can find where tension needs to build, or where you need more substance sooner than later. Just remember, you're in charge. You can erase, cross out, and add to your outline any time you want. I have used a chapter outlined for many of my books. I find it helps a great deal when it comes time to write the ever daunting synopsis.
Writing a book is like building a house, it takes a lot of measuring, cutting, and trimming. Remember if you change your mind, you're the contractor, you can rip out a wall or add one wherever you need it. But pretty soon you'll build a a great story with tension and conflict.
I'm sure there are other ways to build a story. Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas. And if you have any questions, please let me know.