by Annette Lyon
I want to hug my daughter's third-grade teacher. She has come up with a fabulous way of helping students draft stories with great conflict, stories that have several steps and aren't simply a recounting of summer vacation.
At a recent parent-teacher conference, I got to read my daughter's latest story, written using the concept Mrs. P. had taught, which she in turn got from a book (which I'm admitting right now I haven't read) called Fortunately, by Remy Charlip.
Each line of the book begins with either "fortunately" or "unfortunately."
I'll quote a bit from my daughter's story (with her permission) so you see how it works. She began what happened after Ned from the original story got to the party he had been invited to:
Unfortunately, tigers burst into the party.
Fortunately, everyone ran out of the room safely.
Unfortunately, he got lost.
Fortunately, he found a plane.
Unfortunately, there was no pilot.
Fortunately, he knew how to drive a plane.
Unfortunately, he fell asleep.
Fortunately, there was another person on the plane.
Unfortunately, he could not drive it.
Fortunately, the boy woke up.
Unfortunately, they crashed.
Fortunately, the plane landed in a flower bed.
Unfortunately, there were bees in the flower bed.
Fortunately, the bees went after someone else.
Unfortunately, they were just getting more bees.
Fortunately, the boy could run faster than the bees could fly.
Unfortunately, he smashed into a door.
Fortunately, it was his house and he got in safely.
See how this works? Something good happens, and then something messes that up, which propels the character into the next situation. The reader thinks it's a good time to take a breath, that everything will work out. But of course it doesn't. Not until the very end.
While I don't recommend beginning every scene of your book with "fortunately" or "unfortunately," the amazing thing here is that this is pretty much how your book should work, too, just on a slightly more complex level.
One situation should lead causally to the next one, which leads to the next.
Good things happen, but then they get messed up, leading to the next thing.
If your story doesn't have enough "unfortunately" moments, it's going to be dry and slow-paced.
Take a look at your plot and see if you can't shake it up by going between the highs and lows that we learned from good old Ned and Mrs. P.