Monday, 19 December 2011

Four ways to kill narrative drive


If you took all the books that were ever written and laid them end-to-end you'd have a very long line of books – the point being that with so much to read if you're lucky enough to have a reader take a look you don't want to give them any excuse to put your book down and move onto the next – but if you insist, here's four ways to do it.

Withhold information

A sure-fire way to maintain reader interest is to not tell them stuff, right? That way they'll keep reading just to find out, right? No. Utterly, utterly wrong. Giving the reader a question she wants to know the answer to is not the same as withholding the interesting stuff until the end. If you don't put the interesting stuff at the start then, well, the reader just isn't going to be interested enough to keep reading. It's obvious really.

The key is to give the reader interesting stuff right from the start with the promise of more interesting stuff and then keep delivering interesting stuff right to the end. Nobody said this was going to be easy.

Nothing Happens

The power of your voice, the detail of your description, the depth of your characters, all mean nothing if nothing ever happens. Your voice will quickly become droning, your descriptions pointless and your characters irrelevant and uninteresting if not tested by events. 'What happens next' is the simplest mechanism for narrative propulsion – don't be afraid to use it.

Uninteresting Protagonist

So your MC is a humourless plank? Or a spotless do-gooder? Or a bore? Or two-dimensional mouthpiece for your own Freudian hang-ups? I don't want to read about that sort of chump and neither do you. So don't write them.

Predictability

Your scenes should be the natural consequence of previous scenes, and your ending should be inevitable but not predictable. If the reader has your plot figured by page 2 they are less inclined to read on to find out what they know already.

This doesn't mean you can't play with the form – many great stories start with the ending already known (which can have a propulsive effect of it's own), but unpredictability must remain - why and how did this known ending happen? How is this story going to get to that point. Inevitable but unpredictable.

Ok, so that's how not to do it - here's how to actually do it

Good luck.

7 comments:

  1. Great points! My favorite is the first one--on withholding information. The key is to keep giving the readers new questions, not dangling the same one over a span of a few hundred pages. Really great distinction.

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  2. @Ava - glad you enjoyed and approve. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

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  3. Another great post, James. Good issues to be reminded of.
    Thanks, Hemmie.

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  4. @Hemmie - no, thank YOU, you soon-to-be-published author you...

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  5. These are good tips. It helps to be reminded.
    Paula

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  6. My favorite tip is definitely the one about the protagonist. I can't stand noodly, brooding protagonists who don't seem to know what they want. Get in the game, protagonist!

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  7. @Paula - thanks, Paula - glad you liked them. Thanks for taking time to comment.

    @Daniel - exactly. Thanks for posting, Daniel.

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