On Writing Well – What Is Meant By The Chase In A Story?

Many years ago I was playing golf with my literary agent at the time, and we were discussing a novel I had written that he was representing. He’d just finished reading a substantial revision he had urged me to make, and I was anticipating a positive response to what had taken a great deal of effort on my part to make happen. But when I asked him what he thought, his reply stumped me, because all he said was that my story needed more of a chase.
Writers Must be Alert to What They’re Told by Agents, Editors, and Publishers
The agent and I had become good friends over the course of a three-year period. So when I heard his remark, I wasn’t uncomfortable telling him what I thought of it. I remember even saying, after I topped a ball into the lake, that I was not going to revise the story any further. Instead of snapping back at me, he laughed and told me that no writer can ever say never to revising. Then he explained his meaning of “chase” to me.
Conflict and Peril
His contention was that I hadn’t created a level of conflict that placed the protagonist in enough consistent peril for my thriller to work in a mass-market environment. And plot consistency, especially since this has so much to do with a story’s pacing, is an element a seasoned agent will have a sense for. A writer must heed what he or she is told–no matter how much it might hurt to hear the truth.
More Honest Words were Probably Never Spoken
I’m convinced that book was never published because I failed to take the agent’s advice and create a more powerful plotline that constantly focused on the anxiety surrounding my protagonist’s condition. The agent even told me exactly how to do this, but I was too immature as a writer to understand what he was suggesting. Today, I’m five novels beyond that one, but I’ve looked back at the book on several occasions and chuckled at my indifference to what I recognize now as such an obvious deficiency.
A Chase Means One Thing
All writers must have this goal for their stories, and this is to make it hard (sic, impossible) for readers to put down their books. This is what writing a strong chase is all about. And it applies to all genres.
Can Ma and Pa Ingalls make a new life on the prairie for Laura and the rest of their family? Is Buck ever going to be reunited with his owner in Alaska? What is going to happen to Billy Budd while he is being tried for a crime he didn’t commit? Will Scarlett marry Rhett? Can Agent Starling capture Dr. Lector? Will Harry survive the trials and tribulations foisted on him by his detractors at Hogwarts?
The chase gets down to maintaining a level of anxiety that keeps the reader engrossed in the protagonist’s predicament, and it’s undeniably the most critical element for the success of any story.

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