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To make sure that your story builds and attention escalates, ask yourself: first, has everything that can go wrong gone wrong? Don't be nice to your protagonist, even a little bit. Take the gloves off and throw social conventions out the window. Make sure your plot continually forces her to rise to the occasion. Second, have you exposed your protagonist's deepest secrets and most guarded flaws? No matter how embarrassing or painful the revelation, have you forced her to fess up? Have you made her confront her demons? After all, how could she possibly overcome them or realize they aren't so bad after all unless your story forces her to.
Third, does your protagonist earn everything she gets and pay for everything she loses? This is another way of saying that there must be a consequence to everything that happens. Ideally, a consequence that forces your protagonist to take an action she'd really rather not. Fourth, does everything your protagonist tries to do to make the situation better actually make it worse? Good. The worse things get for your protagonist, the better it gets for your story by making sure that things go from bad to worse.
You keep your story's pacing on track as the tension and the stakes ratchet ever upward. Finally, is the force of opposition personified, present, and active? It doesn't always have to be a giant raging gorilla or a gun-toting psychopath, but readers want someone or something to root against. This means that vague threats, generalized evil, or unspecified possible disastrous events don't cut it.
The danger needs to be specific and wired to a rapidly-ticking clock. Now it's your turn to take a potentially dramatic but currently hum-drum story and throw in a monkey wrench or two of your own. So turn to the example in your exercise files and get started.
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