I’m reading The Sport of the Gods by Paul Dunbar. The novel is flat and not gripping. Why? It’s well-written. That’s not the problem.
The problem is that the theme—the injustice that black people suffered after emancipation—is not cast into plot with a strong protagonist against a difficult opposition with the outcome in doubt. The storyline reads more like the dreadful events that a sociologist or psychologist would hear and be requested to assist the protagonist to deal with.
In Freytag’s pyramid, the progress of the story is separated into general blocks.
- Exposition. The reader must be given background necessary for the action to make sense.
- Rising action. Then the protagonist decides to take an action.
- Climax. The conflict between the protagonist and the opposition is joined.
- Falling action. The win or loss in the climatic conflict.
- Denouement. The final impacts of the climatic result.
In The Sport of the Gods, the height of the climax is too low, because the forces are severely imbalanced, leaving no doubt in the climatic outcome.
Novels require suspense about the outcome between a determined person and a formidable obstacle. If the story cannot be cast in that shape, despite very good writing, another mode of telling the story is required—for instance, an article, an essay, or perhaps a poem.