I have a good story idea, but the execution is boring. Help!

by Lyndsay
(South Carolina)

Question: I came up with an idea for a story/novel. The entire book is about a 17-year-old boy who was locked in a prison by his mother when he was 6 but has no idea why. He has no idea what the crime he committed was and it seems that his only sin was being born. The novel begins with him as a 17-year-old talking about his outlook on life and death before he is interrupted by one of his captors, an 'Angel of Death' as he calls them. And that's as far as I've made it. The end of the story will be when he finally escapes and kills all of his captors, only to be revealed that he is actually a schizophrenic mental asylum patient that was being used as a test subject for old methods (such as icepick lobotomies) and the Angels of Death were the doctors/scientists that were experimenting on him. But I have no clue as to how to make the middle of the story interesting because there's not much that a guy locked in a 'prison' can do.

Answer: I'm not certain from your description whether the murders are going to be real or take place in the character's imaginary landscape. But no matter.

In terms of a dramatic arc, you want to bring your main character to the point where he makes a shift -- in this case, his escape.

That means the pressure on him needs to escalate.

So one question you might ask yourself is, "Why now?" He's been in this situation for some time. So what changes? What new development creates an urgent need for your character to do something, to start moving in a new direction? What might the Angel of Death do or say that causes the main character to decide that the status quo cannot continue?

Once the main character starts in this new direction, there will be challenges, obstacles, requirements that must be met, etc. that will add to the drama -- as well as a looming consequence if he fails.

You might sit down and brainstorm a list of things that could happen that might send the main character in this new direction. These might involve other characters as well. Then step back and consider which of these potential turning points makes the story come alive for you.

Best of luck.

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