The final day of the Backspace conference was an optional workshop with Donald Maass called Writing the Breakout Novel. He spoke for eight hours with a few water breaks and a lunch. In that time, I took about thirty pages of notes. No joke.
Don talked about character development, what actually sells books (word of mouth!), and an ocean of other things in a room full of people scribbling/typing every word like our lives depended on it. But the most eye-opening parts of his workshop revolved around enhancing conflict and creating tension.
Grab a pen and paper. This will take less than five minutes, I promise.
1. What does your MG want the most?
2. What is the complete opposite?
3. Now, can the MG want both of those things?
Then show that.
Here's an example. Say your story begins with your MG getting out of prison. That's all he's wanted for the two years he was in there. To get out, get back to his wife and son, and get on with his life. Once he's out, though, Life kicks into high gear. He discovers that his wife has cheated on him and his son is mixed up with the drug dealer who landed dear, old dad in prison in the first place. There are times when all your MG wants is to go back to the shelter of prison where someone else had things under control. And it wouldn't take much. There's still a bag of cocaine in his sock drawer...
Now, that's a weak example, but think about the possibilities. All the opportunities for conflict.
Some of the other questions Donald Maass asked, and what you can do with the answer in your manuscript were:
Who is your MG's greatest ally? Take that person away.
What's one thing your MG would never do? Make him/her do it.
What is the worst thing that could possibly happen to keep your MG from his/her goal?
Guess what? MAKE IT HAPPEN!
We're storytellers. We can do whatever we want! But no one will read it if we flatten out the roller coaster. So, run your character through the mud. Give your villain the advantage. Bring on the bad. And once your character is beyond all hope, has lost everything, can't possibly solve the looming issue, take thirty pages to fix it.
I would highly recommend everyone to go through this workshop. At the very least, buy the book and the workbook, because your fiction will look completely different when you're finished. My precious manuscript has the same umbrella plot and characters, but I'm changing everything else. :) Too dramatic? Trust me, it's not. You know those books that you literally can't put down, where the author makes every, single word urge you to turn the page, where you take personal days off work because you stayed up all night finishing Catching Fire and Mockingjay? Umm, not like I've ever done that or anything. Well, I want my book to hold you in the same way. I want you to scream in frustration, smile a secret smile along with my MG, gasp at the end of some chapters. I want my readers desperate for more.
Don't you? ;) Then Donald Maass's book is a great investment.