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I have written a story in the form of a journal. It's about a man who is going through a separation/divorce, living alone in an unfurnished apartment; now lonely and longing for companionship.

Anyway, I've always felt that the beginning (first 40 or so pages) was kinda slow and while interesting and informative about the guys' predicament, but not really compelling enough for the reader to continue on. A friend of mine who is reading it told me, after reading about a third of it, that it was very realistic and great writing, but then said, "Maybe there should be more action." So now I'm going through it and trying to add some "action" in there, and don't see how I can do that.

There is a lot of action in the second half of the story, but if I lose my audience before they get there...Any ideas or suggestions?

Thanks.

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Rearrange your idea sequence or change the Point Of View (POV). For example, the friend comes to "the apartment", finding it empty or disheveled, but discovers the journal but not your protagonist. You're now set up for a mystery, perhaps a journey type novel, but the POV is that of the investigating friend.

Perhaps the friend knows why the separation/divorce took place, so you can kind of gloss over that initially, but as he reads he discovers a dark side to either your protagonist (who deserved his outcome) or a poisonous side to the ex-spouse, or some yet-to-be-revealed event which caused the divorce AND the plot to be set in motion.

An example. Let's say friend picks up the journal, flips towards the end (trying to find out why the person is gone) and reads a glum entry about how the protagonist has been alone, yada yada yada or three months now (but as an author you're not dragging me through three months, you're dragging me through about 45 seconds (a half to three quarters of a page). Friend turns the pages, and half way down he/she reads something like. "I guess it's my own damn fault, I didn't mean to kill _________." and the entry ends right there, and the rest of the journal is empty.

Now that you've got my interest, the POV character can bring the journal with him/her etc. and you're off and running. Then you can intersperse your original protagonist's journal entries in the middle of the action, and make the "original actions" move the mystery/journey story forward.

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  • Thanks. That's excellent, but this story is told in the first person, as if the reader found this journal and started reading it. The journal is the story. But I think that the first part of the story is too hum drum, and doesn't wholly capture the interest of the reader. So I'm trying to figure out a way to make some modification(s) in the first 3rd of the story (his journal) to keep the reader engaged enough to keep them wanting to read on - where all the juicy stuff is :0) I know that sounds terrible that they would have to suffer through a third of the book before getting to the real plo – Roger Maxwell Jan 10 '16 at 21:45
  • @RogerMaxwell : Heya! Welcome to Writers.SE :) When you respond to an answer, the way to do that is as a comment; the response you've written was written as an additional answer to your question. The distinction's important because (A) mixing answers and comments is confusing! (B) when you comment, the person you're responding to gets a ping, (C) The order of answer posts isn't constant - I had to go through all the answers to figure out which one you were replying to! :) – Standback Jan 12 '16 at 8:00
  • So, I converted this to a comment. It looks like I've lost the tail-end of your response; I'll copy it below. Please let me know if you've got any questions (you can ping me by writing @Standback in the comment, like I did with your name). – Standback Jan 12 '16 at 8:01
  • The rest of your comment was: I know that sounds terrible that they would have to suffer through a third of the book before getting to the real plot. Again though, it is a journal, and things may be kinda droll in the beginning until that major change in his life occurs; nevertheless...I don't know. Any further suggestions would be much appreciated. – Standback Jan 12 '16 at 8:02
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It may be difficult to add 'action' in that format since the journal author would be unlikely to want to write blow by blow accounts of events he has just experienced. For example if he gets into a fight, would he really want to go home and write it up like a thriller?

Despite this you can certainly add tension, and even action in a roundabout way. You can write his words as he gets himself worked up about something and plans to do something extreme (quitting his job or beating someone up). It's a perfect format to explore rage, desperation or hope, and even run through fantasy versions of what he intends to do. Of course we don't viscerally get to experience the action which actually follows; we'll only read about the aftermath, but that's okay. The build-up, the fantasies and that moment between entries, where we just want to know if he did it or not, should give your readers enough thrills.

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  • Thanks, that helps. As the story goes on there is a lot more going on. But the word 'tension' is the key word I needed to hear, and the question I need to ask as I re-write. Thank you for that and your examples. – Roger Maxwell Jan 12 '16 at 21:25
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Maybe something you could do is to keep in mind that while you’re writing from the perspective of the person reading it, the journal itself is written from the perspective of the person in-universe writing it. And because it’s a journal, everything in it probably recently happened to him, so it’s not like he needs to remind himself. You can use this to create some mystery as to what actually happens.

Example: let’s say his apartment gets broken into, and he comes home and catches the robber red-handed. The journal-writer knows what happened, but not the reader. So maybe you have the writer mentioning things like injuries sustained in the resulting fight, the damage done to his stuff, and the like, but not what actually happened. The lack of information is compelling, and makes the reader want to keep reading. This is just a little example, probably spanning only a few pages, but you can expand upon it with other, bigger events. Also, if it’s something that the writer has negative emotions regarding, if he’s ashamed or afraid of it, then that’s a good reason why he wouldn’t explicitly mention whatever-it-was by name, and just keep alluding to it.

That might not be explicitly action, as of the “biff, bam, pow” sort, but if you’re just looking for a way to keep the reader involved until Act Two, then this should help do that.

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