Write well. Write often. Edit wisely.
There’s nothing like curiosity to make us dig deep, to encourage exploration.
When we’re curious, when our interest is aroused, we want to figure out what’s going on.
And when our curiosity is wakened, we’re likely to follow along to see where something leads because we need to know the outcome. Curiosity is a force, a compelling one. A force that makes us act.
This is what we want for our readers, we want to waken them to the possibilities of our stories. We want them curious, enticed. We want them following our characters into their adventures. We want them to act on the curiosity we create.
Imagine irresistible breadcrumbs laid out before the readers. If you promise readers that the breadcrumbs will lead to an ending that will satisfy them, will make the trip worthwhile, they’re going to be at least willing to step into the adventure. If you also make the breadcrumbs themselves appealing, readers are going to follow quickly, become enmeshed in your stories.
The task of the writer, then, is to promise a satisfying ending and to drop enticing breadcrumbs along the way to keep readers on the path toward that ending.
Readers may need a lot of breadcrumbs at a story’s opening, or they may need only a few highly enticing ones. This means the breadcrumbs might need to come frequently at the top of a story. They definitely need to be appealing. Remember that books in general and one book in particular must compete with every other form of entertainment and every distraction and every responsibility that could draw readers away. At the beginning of a book, you’ve got to give readers a reason to follow, to commit. To turn away from any and everything else.
Once the reader is committed, he may stay committed because inner anticipation has replaced the lure of your breadcrumbs. This doesn’t mean that you stop luring him. But it does mean that once readers are involved, their experience with story can do some of the work.
To stir reader curiosity, give them the unexpected. Challenge their brains and their emotions. Provide a puzzle that needs a solution. Surprise them.
And do each of these things more than once.
Yes, draw readers in with your story’s opening. But don’t forget about reader curiosity after that point. Give readers a tidbit to puzzle over with the inciting incident. Draw them deeper midway through the adventure with a twist or an unexplained event or a mysterious character. Give your lead character a motivation that begs to be explored.
Make sure that each scene leaves readers wanting more. Don’t allow readers any moment without some uncertainty or question or puzzle. If they’ve got all the answers—or simply think they do—readers have no reason to continue reading.
A story’s opening hook has to be strong enough to attract a reader, get him involved. But you need compelling characters and captivating events sprinkled throughout the story to ensure the reader’s sustained interest.
Think about your reader—what will have him anticipating the next event? What have you written that will stir him? Give him something new if events and characters seem to be moving along without bumps; you don’t want to put readers to sleep.
Increase reader tension by introducing a story element that makes them look closer, that makes them pay attention. That makes them have to pay attention. Think in terms of anticipation.
Picture your readers as listeners around a camp fire. You want them leaning forward in anticipation; that means you’ve got to give them something to anticipate. And you have to lead their responses.
If readers were surrounding you in person, listening, you’d see when they responded, when they leaned forward with interest or when they grew restless with boredom. And you could adjust your storytelling to fit their responses. But since you can’t see them, you have to move them in ways you know will work, methods proven to entice readers.
Surprise the reader
Provide a twist
Turn the expected inside out or upside down
Pose questions and delay the answers
Have a character act contrary to her nature, either negatively or positively
Encourage readers to anticipate what could happen, but give them an event or character response they couldn’t have expected, yet one so very appropriate for the story—this means you get to not only lead them, but mislead them
Encourage emotional responses in your readers
Create anticipation by writing a character action that requires another character’s reaction
Give characters multiple problems and setbacks—pile on the problems
Encourage readers to think—keep them involved
Change the pace
Raise the stakes
Give characters a reason to move faster—set a clock ticking
Introduce a new character, one who shakes up the status quo
Remove a character to take away another character’s support system
Change any major story element—don’t allow either characters or readers to grow comfortable
Lead the reader where you want/need him to go; don’t let him start wondering why a character did such-and-such when you need him wondering instead why she did so-and-so. That is, direct the reader. And don’t leave unintended openings for the reader to stumble into. You want readers on your path, not some alternate one that doesn’t go where you need him to go.
The bottom line is to keep the reader in mind. Once you’ve sketched out the first draft or two or three, make sure the novel has scenes and passages that will have the reader leaning forward in anticipation. You can’t expect the opening hook and inciting incident to carry readers through 350 pages to the climax. You’ve got to give them entertaining moments along the way. You’ve got to keep them curious.
If you’ve spent all your time plotting story events and building characters, take a pass or two through the manuscript to identify elements that will capture the reader’s attention. If you don’t have any for pages at a time, for scene after scene, you’ve got to add some. The story is about the characters, but you’re writing for real readers. Keep them involved. Make them curious. And increase that curiosity throughout the story.
You can follow established patterns of dramatic structure, such as what is typically found in three-act plays and movies and even in TV shows, but you can also use your own methods to ensure rising and falling action. If you’ve not formally studied dramatic structure, do a bit of research to see what the options are, see why it’s important to engage readers at particular points in a story.
Yet know that you can make the reader curious at any point. Curiosity leads to anticipation which leads to the need to find out what’s going to happen. If you keep leading your reader, he will stay with you and your characters to the end. And that’s the point of writing enticing fiction—to keep readers turning the page until they reach the final one.
You don’t want readers bored. You don’t want them stopping before they get to the end. You don’t want them guessing the vital events and character reactions before they’re unveiled on the page.
But you do want them curious and anticipating.
Give readers enough without giving away the payoff. A tricky task, but one that novelists need to master. One you need to be proficient at.
Make your readers curious and keep them that way. Write enthralling fiction.