4 Ways to Add Caffeine to Your Story

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Lately I've been reading a book by an author whose voice and story is slower and more flowing than I'm used to, Susanna Kearsley's The Winter Sea. The prose is beautiful and I find myself relishing her exquisite setting details and how they perfectly reflect the character's mood and the plot. It's the kind of story you savor and read languidly much the same way you sip a rich creamy mug of hot cocoa.

Most of the time, however, I find myself gravitating toward books that are more pulse-pounding. I like books that contain depth and beauty and passion but at the same time keep me turning the pages fast.

After hearing from readers over the years, I've learned that my books have more of the pulse-pounding, page-turning quality. Instead of a cup of creamy hot cocoa, my books are like an iced coffee that you guzzle on a hot summer day.

For example, Rachel Rittenhouse read my newest release, Captured by Love and said: "At no time in the book could I guess how this book would definitely is not predictable! I loved the excitement and it was refreshing to read a book that surprised me at each turn."

A recent review in Romantic Times said: “With well-drawn, realistically flawed and sympathetic characters, tight and thrillingly unpredictable plotlines, fascinating historical details and moving faith journeys, Hedlund’s novels never disappoint and Captured by Love is no exception.”

As I thought about how Rachel, Romantic Times, and others have described my books, I’ve realized, that although I never set out intentionally to be a page-turning (iced-coffee guzzling) type of author, I have evolved into that.

Not every writer will want or need to have an iced-coffee story. But for those who are interested in a fast-moving, higher-caffeinated story, here are some of the ingredients I use in mine:

1. Continuous, yet purposeful action.

As I write scenes, I look for ways to keep them from being static. In other words, I want to have my characters DOING things that relate to the plot as much as possible, rather than just sitting around and talking or contemplating.

2. Plenty of new and interesting adventure.

During my research phase (before I start my first draft), I keep a running list of all the weird, crazy, or interesting events/situations that I could use in my story. Then as I’m writing, I try to weave in as much adventure as I can.

3. Tightening the noose of the danger and dilemmas.

As the story progresses, I’m always thinking in the back of my mind, “How can I continue to make things worse for my hero and heroine? And how can I make the danger more threatening?” I want to keep tightening the noose around their necks so that the situation looks utterly hopeless. Sometimes I get my characters into so much trouble, even I begin to wonder how they’ll ever get out!

4. Make every scene count.

Granted not every scene will be a knife-fight, dangerous river-crossing, or attack by a mountain lion. But even those scenes that are less action-oriented can be loaded with emotional or relational tension and conflict. If there’s nothing tense in the scene, then we need to ask if it’s really needed. Perhaps we can skip it and just jump to the next conflict-laden scene.

Those are just a few of my techniques for keeping my stories moving.

What about you? Which do you prefer reading—a hot cocoa book or an iced coffee? And if you’re a writer, which do you prefer writing? 
(This is a revised version of a post I wrote in 2011)

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