Numbers in Writing: Intensity

Blog Post 13 Writing Analytics IntensityWhat keeps you reading a good book?  You may say the characters.  Or the plot.  Or the conflict.  Those are all good reasons a book holds its reader captive.  I’d also like to say it goes deeper than that into something called intensity.  In his book, Plot and Structure, James Scott Bell defines it as emotional or physical turmoil, usually generated from conflict.

Every novel has to have one or the other form.  Literary novels tend to focus on the emotional turmoil while many suspense novels have physical turmoil.  The really good suspense novels contain both.

Intensity also changes within a scene or book.  For the purposes of this blog, I’m going to focus on intensity level across a book.  There’s a whole lot more associated with intensity than I can share in this post.  Please see Bell’s book for more information.

What I want to focus on is how an analysis of intensity levels can figure into making your novel better.  There are three things to understand about intensity.

  • Definition of intensity level. Bell defines an Intensity Scale to determine the level of intensity associated either with points within a scene or across a novel. A 0 means no intensity, and a 10 means over-the-top intensity.
  • Its role in a novel. Intensity can bring balance to a novel. How? It provides moments of hard-hitting action, followed by scenes that allow the reader to breathe and the characters to develop and grow. Check out the graphic shown with this post. This is from my recently released novel, Hunter Hunted. The X axis is the scene number, and the Y axis is the intensity level. As the novel progresses, you’ll note several peaks and valleys. The peaks correspond to levels of high action. The valleys are where the reader gets a chance to catch their breath and where the characters develop their depth.
  • Its role with the reader. Intensity keeps the reader tangled within the novel. Coupled with proper character development and good plotting, it makes the reader want to stay up late and finish the novel. Better yet, when the reader finishes a book with balanced intensity, chances are that they’ll go out and buy another one.

Viewing intensity levels as a whole can provide you with enormous feedback on how to properly balance your novel.  The steps are easy.

  1. Complete your first draft. That’s the fun part.
  2. Using a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel, create a spreadsheet that has columns for the scene number, chapter name and/or summary, and intensity level.
  3. Graph the intensity level on the Y axis and the scene number on the X axis on a bar graph like shown in this post. If you’re unsure of how to do this, contact me, and I’ll be glad to provide more detailed instructions.
  4. Take an overall look at the way your novel flows. Do you have more than two or three scenes at a level of 10? Do you have any at the one or two level? Do you have peaks where the action is so intense that the reader wants to keep turning the pages? Do you have valleys where the reader can pause to catch their breath and where your characters can develop?
  5. Revise your manuscript to provide balance in terms of peaks and valleys. Take care to not have too many scenes at a 10 and few, if any, at a 1 or 2.

There you have it.  Numbers do have more of a function than word count.  They can introduce spice in your novel to provide a balance that will keep your readers turning pages.

Question:  What else would you like to know about intensity?

I have not received any compensation for writing this post.  I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services I have mentioned.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”



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