There’s a particular feeling you get when you know your novel is okay, but not going far enough. It’s a mild satisfaction, but it’s not the “wow” you should be feeling when you re-read your work, even in the early stages of a first draft.
Here’s what I think you should be feeling: you should be wondering if you went too wild and too far, not that you didn’t go far enough. Particularly in the horror genre, but I think this speaks to the majority of other genres as well, extreme events pay off huge dividends with readers, and eventually for you as a writer. Would you rather get a, “Yeah, that was okay,” from your reader, or a, “Wow, I have to tell someone about this book! I’ve never read anything like it!”? People talk about the latter, but not the former.
Here are a few tips for pushing your novel out of its comfort zone of safe and boring into where you should be … where you write so well that you’ve made a fan for life:
1. Turn the typical plot outline on its head: Add more to the usual growing crescendo of events. It can be anything … deaths, traumas, dramas, anything at all … turn the conflict up as far as you can go for what is appropriate at that stage in the book.
2. When you turn the drama up, don’t abandon the plot outline altogether: Plot outlines work for a reason, so you don’t want to go too chaotic. Go just chaotic enough to draw the reader in deeper.
3. Next, fix your characterization: When you fix the boredom that has crept into your novel, you’re going to have to turn up your characters to accommodate the new, higher level of conflict and action in the book, or else it’s jarring and not believable for the reader.
4. Outline your plot with the new events added in: Lay out on paper, or in Word, each event/scene that happens in every chapter of your book with a bit of detail for each one. I suggest printing this out because you can tape it up on the wall and examine it in a logical fashion as scene flows into scene. I also suggest making a bare-bones event/scene list to accompany it, or else you may get a bit lost in your longer guide. Question it, fix it, and adjust from there.
5. Finally, pick and choose the new, more extreme events for maximum impact: Don’t bludgeon the reader with non-stop action. This can work in a thriller, but even a thriller needs a breather now and then. You’ll also find that some scenes worked better than others, etc. Choose your moments and rewrite excellent build-ups to those events with what works for a plot outline in your chosen genre.