Put your characters under pressure.
I’ve been in France for two weeks, mostly without internet access, and then my kindle broke down. Short of reading material, I went through the bookshelves at the place where we were staying and ploughed my way through a boxset of Joanna Trollope novels, written in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. I’d read and enjoyed them at the time, and have now renewed my passion for her writing.
Joanna Trollope, like her distant relative Anthony Trollope, is a great story teller. She starts most of her novels with a secure status quo: a happy family, a contented relationship, a safe situation. Then she introduces an element of change: a death (A Passionate Man), a birth (A Spanish Lover), financial hardship (ditto), a growing awareness of age difference (The Men and the Girls). Suddenly her characters are under pressure: some cope and adapt, some flounder. The changes alter lives irrevocably – and that’s when we have a story.
I think we can learn a lot from Joanna Trollope. If our stories are stagnating and our characters becoming dull, we need to put them under pressure. Finding out how our characters respond to change is what makes them interesting. And the way in which they respond can determine our narrative.