Writers cheat. I’m not talking about blatant or even subtle plagiarism. I’m referring to taking short cuts when it comes to plot devices. How often have you read, “It is written…” or “It has been prophesied that…”? I see this technique as a way to explain away why something happens without really explaining why it happens.
There’s nothing less exciting for the reader than inevitability.
As I begin writing the sequel to my first novel, Ohlen’s Arrow, I have imposed upon myself the requirement that I answer “Why?” for every character motive in my story. My process involves making a plot event list, which is nothing more than a sequential list of events that occur in the story. Each event is a single sentence that translates into a scene in the book. I then organize those scenes into chapters.
When I state, “The monsters attack the castle”, for example, I must answer the question, “Why did the monsters attack the castle?” What is their motivation? Simply declaring, “They’re monsters, that’s what they do!” is nowhere near good enough, and would easily come across to most readers as transparent and cheap. If a character gets promoted to a position of power, how unoriginal would it be if I declare that it was prophesied by the mystic elders of the First Millennium? This makes it sound inevitable, and there’s nothing less exciting for the reader than inevitability.
Answering “Why?” requires that I do some backstory research, which can be described as Iceberg Tips. Even though a great deal of the backstory behind my character’s motives won’t actually appear in my book, there will be hints of it and the discerning reader will glean why Argo the Orc hated Prince Ruprect with every fiber of his ugly hide. Without the iceberg, there can be no tip.