Crunchy bits are good. They’re the satisfying nuggets you can really get your teeth into in a story — the thrilling fight sequence, the spooky and mysterious ritual, the interesting chunk of real-world information. The sprinkling of crunchy bits determines the pace of the book, the genre it falls into, how hard the book is to put down, and how much fun the reader will have. Screenwriting guru Blake Snyder characterised the crunchy bits of a movie as justifying the price of admission, and it’s just as true for books, RPG supplements or anything else.
Although it’s the ‘set pieces’ that tend to provide the main action sequences, other crunchy bits serve other functions. The most obvious is fitting into genre tropes. Just like certain styles of music require certain beats per minute in their definition, so certain genres of fiction require certain fictional conventions. You can’t have a mystery where the reader knows the answer; you need several plausible alternatives for the villain. So the crunchy bits of a mystery will include introducing a number of characters and making them slightly threatening. Similarly, horror almost always requires isolation, so horror crunchy bits tend to include scenes that mark the hero out as cut off from help and social contact. If you’re writing sf, then you need crunchy bits of futuristic tech. And so on.
But crunchy bits can provide a great way to work out a plot framework for a story. Once you have a rough idea of the book you want to write, sit down with a pen and paper, and brainstorm a list of fun, exciting scenes you’d like to fit into the book somewhere. Include things that are relevant to the genre, things that you reckon show off your characters’ skills and talents, and above all, things that seem exciting, interesting or fun to you. Don’t worry about whether it makes sense at this point. Just get a list of crunchy goodness.
Afterwards, try arranging your crunchy bits in different orders. Look at how one might link to another. If you’ve got a scene of a top assassin breaking into a really well-guarded home, and also a scene of a brutal killing, then there’s an obvious bridge. Where bits are less well linked, try out your various arrangements, and picture the story that links them all together. When you’ve got an arrangement you like, make notes of the scenes that are required to thread it all together, and check it makes sense. If something seems illogical, or doesn’t fit, you’ll have to tweak it or throw it out.
Keep trying different options until it all feels right, and you’ll find you’ve got the plot of an exciting, crunchy story.