Oh, look. A post on writing.
I’ve been meaning to do a post on writing for weeks, folks, but then I feel like I’m obligated to tell you ALL THE THINGS about my book release (like about the party —>) and I don’t want to make your blog feeder explode.
Anyway. Let’s talk about keeping your reader engaged.
I don’t have the attention span for books that require slogging through pages and pages of narrative until it really gets good. This is why I won’t pick up The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, despite the fact that so many people have said the book is amazing once you get past the first hundred-and-fifty pages or so.
I’m sure it’s stellar. Millions of people can’t be wrong. But hearing about a slow start is such a turnoff for me. I’m not one of these people who has to read an entire book. If it’s not working, I put it down. Or I scroll to the next book on the list on my Kindle. I think this is why I’m drawn to YA. It feeds my need for constant stimulation.
1) I try to end every chapter with a question of where the story is going. It might be a cliffhanger ending to the chapter, it might be a decision a character has to face, it might be unresolved conflict. Whatever, every chapter has to end with the reader wondering what’s next.
Here’s the end of a chapter from Spark:
“I’m sorry I didn’t make it to the library.” Layne gestured to the mess around them. “I was busy.”“It’s cool,” he said, feeling a flash of guilt that he’d assumed she was standing him up. “Let me know if those dicks mess with you again.”“Why?” she said, her voice flat again. “You gonna rumble under the bleachers?”“What does that mean?”“Nothing. Forget it.” She shoved the last of her papers into her backpack. She tapped her brother on the arm, and then signed. “Come on, Simon.”Gabriel studied her, nonplussed. “You’re mad at me?”“Maybe if you thought with something other than your fists, you’d be passing math on your own.”Gabriel stared, having no idea what to say.And in that moment of silence, she picked up her backpack and rounded the corner, without once looking back.
It’s not a cliffhanger, but the conflict is unresolved. Open ended. If you feel satisfied at the end of the chapter, that is not a good thing. (Unless it’s the last chapter of the book.)
2) I pay keen attention to how I feel about writing the scene. I cannot overstress the importance of this. You ever find yourself writing something, and you’re saying to yourself, “I can’t wait to get through this scene so I can get on to the good part!”
Trust me. Your reader is thinking something very similar. Or they’re just putting the book down.
If you’re bored with what you’re writing, your reader is definitely going to be bored. If I find myself drifting, or leaving a scene to go set up my Peapod order, or skimming Twitter, then I know I’m not engaged.
Sometimes you can just delete those scenes. Do you really need a connector scene between the boardroom and the bedroom? Do you need to show the train ride home, or can you just go from that scene in the office to the woman holding a champagne glass in front of a fireplace? Readers will make leaps of logic.
If you need the scene, but you’re still bored, it’s time to throw a wrench in the works. I joke about lighting someone on fire, but it’s true: if everyone is getting along, there’s no conflict, and conflict is what drives your novel.
People think they want to read about people getting together. They don’t. People want to read about conflict with the potential for people to get together. Remember the first few seasons of The Office, when Jim and Pam were seeing other people? Sparks were practically shooting out of my television. Remember that episode of The Vampire Diaries when Elena calls Stefan and tells him that she knows he’s only being a cruel bastard because he can’t help it, and she’ll always be there for him, but then she goes and kisses Damon?
Really, it’s a miracle my living room didn’t catch on fire.
If everyone is getting along, you’re doing it wrong.
3) I use the delete key like a weed-whacker.
If you’re in the middle of a fast-paced scene, get rid of extra words. GET RID OF THEM. Go on. Delete them. Nothing is worse than reading a scene like this:
The man had a sword in his hand and he was coming down the hill rapidly, as if the devil himself were chasing him. His feet coursed through the grass with a whisper that was completely at odds with the murderous expression on his face. Jane shrank back in terror, fearing that her desire for a few moments of solitude had been her undoing here, and she would regret this moment as long as she lived–if she could live past this moment.
I mean, honestly. It was painful for me to write that. (I made it up on the spur of the moment.)
The man came flying down the hill with a sword in his hand. Jane ducked, thinking, Holy crap.
The delete key is not your friend. It’s your bitch. USE IT.
What are your writing tricks? How do you keep the reader engaged?