I watched a video on Youtube. Actually I watched a lot of videos on Youtube, but this one was about how certain anime shows create and build suspense, while other anime shows that are, on the surface, very similar, fail to build the same level of suspense. The same things happen, but you don't see them coming, they're not broadcast to the viewer, and therefore you don't have the same dread that something bad is about to happen, it just comes out of left field.
This struck me as exactly the kind of problem I have with my current set of stories. Villains show up and do things, but the reader doesn't see these things coming or always even know what events are connected to what villains. No suspense at all, just random villains showing up.
Now, there are a few things driving this.
One, my stories are short and build to some sort of joke or surprise ending, so what I put into each story pretty much has to contribute to that story. Even though I'm trying to string together a series of stories, each story has to be mostly self-contained. I can't insert a short scene where this or that villain is revealed to be plotting against the heroes, if it has nothing to do with that particular story.
Two, I did not approach the project with an overall plot in mind, or a plan to build to any particular ending. This is because I'm not writing a novel per se, but a series of linked stories, and each story is a self-contained joke of sorts. Which is not to say I shouldn't have an end goal in mind, just that I don't think of these things because my normal approach is to write one story at a time, and whatever funny thing occurs at the end, however outlandish, if that's what makes for a funny story I do that.
Therefore, in one of my normal stories having a random villain show up at the end may prove to be funny, and I'll do that. I don't have to know what's going to happen next. In a project like my current one, I absolutely need to know what's going to happen next, so I can't write exactly like I normally do.
Third, I had this idea in the back of my mind that I didn't want to give things away too early, and this led to my current situation of having villains just show up seemingly at random because I haven't warned the reader about them at all.
Now, to my credit (I think), I did kind of figure out partway into the project who my major villains would be, and there were events that happened that were tied to them. But if you didn't know what they were doing (which the readers did not) then it still probably came off as random, unrelated incidents.
So, this morning I decided to write several "interludes" -- short scenes that established some of what is about to happen, without giving too much away. I call them interludes because I am not constructing them like my normal stories, with a punchline ending. Instead they're just scenes. The first one takes place before the first story in the whole project, and tells the reader that Stella and company have an enemy who wants to corrupt her -- although I deliberately don't reveal that much about said enemy.
I wrote two of these today. The second one happens right after Queen Sable kidnaps Stella, something that our mysterious demonic enemy was planning to do. The third happens right after Stella is apparently kidnapped again, and includes foreshadowing for another enemy that's about to show up. I think I need to do one about Emperor Birol too, who shows up randomly several stories later. There needs to be a short scene in which he detects Grandpa Anarchy and decides to kill him.
Anyway I wrote the first two and part of the third, and I have at least one more to write. I *think* these will make the whole story arc flow a lot better, but we'll see.