Mephisto Prospero contemplating the Two Strings Technique
Two Strings: Two separate issues need to be going in each scene.
In art, we create the illusion of three dimensions with contrast. A single line forming a circle looks two-dimensional to the eye. Add shading around one side and suddenly it looks like a ball instead of a circle—as if the light were shining on the one side casting the far side into shadow. Our eye recognizes this contrast as the way 3-D objects look and assumes that the object on the paper is 3-D, too.
What applies in art is also true in writing. Contrast is what makes the written word spring to life: contrast in theme, contrast in plot, contrast in setting, contrast in character.
The same way that shading tricks the eye by reminding us of what we see around us, contrast in stories reminds us of real life. In real life, things are untidy. Very seldom is anything accomplished without some difficulty. You get a new job, but you do not care for the location. You meet a nice man, but he has a girlfriend who lives far away he has to break up with before he can really see you. You love where you live, but you miss your family who live somewhere else.
These tensions, between what we have in life and the way we would like things to be, are what keep us striving, what makes our life dramatic and interesting—interesting to others, I should say.
This is a very important point, and we should get it out of the way first thing. Writing, stories, drama, is about what is interesting to others. What is interesting to read. What is interesting to hear about.
It is NOT about what is best to live.
Having a good life – getting a job in a place you love, meeting a great fellow who is free to date, having your family move to where you are – is wonderful for those who are living it. However, it doesn’t make interesting drama. (Unless it comes at the end, after a struggle to achieve it.)
This is why so many romance novel publishers have a rule that the book ends with the wedding (or a short epilogue).
So, this is the first lesson of writing:
Books are never about the way we would really like things to be.