You need to be inventive enough to develop complications that will keep at least one problem alive from the first chapter on. Don’t keep a problem important to the main character offstage, even though you know action is coming later. There are two ways to do this. The novel’s central problem can be gradually revealed through lesser problems until you are well into the story, but before all is made clear to the reader. The second method is to disclose it at once – sometimes in the first scene.
Here are a few life-or-death problems I have come across in successful novels:
The main character’s brother is in jail with threat of a murder charge. She must prove him innocent.
Heroine is fleeing with her child to escape a brutal husband.
Heroine’s father – from whom she is estranged – is dying. She must go to him, although still unforgiving for past hurts.
Hero tries to save a brain-injured child from being institutionalized.
These problems became more complicated as the stories developed … other characters enter and conflicts arise. Always, the main character must be emotionally involved or you will lose the reader. You must ask what your main character is doing, or planning NOW. The reader won’t wait. If you allow the central character to become passive, there will not be enough suspense.
Not all scenes can carry high action, but there can be strong conflict where characters merely sit in a room talking. Dialogue can be like dueling with words, and tension can sometimes run high even without physical action. Whatever happens, you should stay inside the viewpoint character in each scene. It helps to stay in the viewpoint of one character throughout your book.
A fiction writer must be inventive. Continue to surprise your readers. The more you use your imagination, the more you reject the obvious and push yourself to create and venture, the more practised you’ll become in providing ingenious twists in the plot.
The same applies to settings. To keep everything dynamic, the background – whether a room or a mountaintop – should be touched on again . Stories don’t happen in a vacuum. Make sure your main problem will be strong enough to carry a whole novel. Think of what the penalties will be if he/she fails; and the rewards if they succeed. Success won by your main character at the end of a valiant struggle against overwhelming odds will bring reader satisfaction. Dynamic problems lead to dynamic events that may lift and bring inspiration into the lives of your readers.
Happy writing! You can always contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org either for help with a writing problem; or to buy discounted copies of my many novels. The latest one (no. 14) is “Searching for Sarah”.