Secrets to Successful Fiction Writing – a reader’s point of view
Great fiction authors have a knack for getting us, the readers, quickly interested in the story, invested in the characters, and keeping us ready to turn each page and continue upon a journey they have set up for us. I spent some time taking a closer look at how they do this, methods for immediate involvement in the tale, and have found a few helpful devices and techniques to use in my own story-telling. Some aspects seemed incidental, until I noticed these same parameters used in almost every book and story the particular author had written.
– When I began reading What the Night Knows, I noticed on my first night of reading I had easily progressed to the 5th chapter. Once I am that far in, there is no turning back – I will read the whole book and not stop until I am finished with it. But it did make me curious. How had I advanced so far into the book with, what seemed like, so little effort? I will tell you how: In the first chapter of the book, there was barely a paragraph over three sentences. In fact, a majority of the paragraphs in the whole book are short, 3-10 sentences. That is streamline – that is succinct. It makes for easy reading. Secondly: Many of the chapters are between three and eight pages, with many being only four or five pages long. Before you know it, you’re at chapter ten and well engaged with the story.
– Crichton keeps his chapters short, also. One thing I noticed about Crichton when reading Jurassic Park, which differs from Koontz, every chapter ends in a cliff-hanger. I mean real cliffhangers; a girl dangling from the ceiling as raptors jump at her feet, or, a worker saying, “What are those alarms?” and John Hammond turning to him with alarm in his face and saying “This can not be good.” Now, you are compelled to turn the page and start the next chapter to see what those alarms are, or, if the girl is going to have her foot chomped off by a hungry raptor. This is probably the exact opposite of what you or I would tend to do at the end of a chapter. We like to close our thoughts to a segment, make it well rounded and resolved before starting a new chapter.
– Dan Brown uses these same two methods, short chapters and cliffhangers to keep the reader turning pages.
– King always works on immediate empathy. He will start a story with a character doing something very common, some mundane task for which we can all relate; the morning jog, trying to get reception on a cell phone, getting chewed out by the boss, waiting for a bus, walking the dog, or just watching a thunderstorm forming on the horizon as the character sips a cup of tea – things we have all done in our lives’ that make us feel instantly associated with the character. This puts us in the character’s shoes, ready to feel and experience what they do.
– Mr. Barker will often start his stories with a character on a quest. Quite often they will be on the verge of finding the prized item, perhaps in the next few pages. Whether it’s a quest for a puzzle box, a quest for the perfect photo, a quest for a fabled creature or hidden land of wonder, your curiosity is peaked, usually in the very first chapter. You want to know if the character will find this treasured item, don’t you? Keep reading and you will find out.
These are some of my observations. These are some of the devices, techniques and styles that have kept me reading. All of these methods will lure the reader deeper into the story and into the depths of danger. Use these ideas in your own writing.
Perhaps you have noticed some other methods that keep readers turning pages in a book. Or perhaps you use an approach or two in your own writing to captivate your readers. If you would like to share these ideas, post them here in the comments and point us to a story of yours that uses the idea. (***please do not post a whole story in the comments). I would like to hear your thoughts, feedback and ideas.