Saturday, 6 August 2011

How to Tease Your Reader

Writing fiction is all about getting the reader to invest their time and interest in your story. Writers do this by constantly teasing the reader, knowing this will entice them to turn each page and jump into their fictional world.

Of course, the whole premise with fiction is that once you’ve hooked your reader, you have to charm them enough to keep reading. There are several narrative devices available to a writer to accomplish this. 

The subtle craft of tease can be simple, slight, or hinted - you don’t have to hit your reader over the head with the obvious and you don’t have to overload them with everything that is likely to happen in the opening chapters.

Less is often more.

There are several ways you can tickle the reader’s fancy and keep their interest nicely oiled:

  • The opening hook
  • Chapter end tease
  • Symbolic overtones – foreshadowing events etc
  • Planting clues 

Hooking the Reader

The opening of any story is important. That means the opening paragraph or sentence has to hook the reader - you have to tease them into reading beyond the first page. You need to grab them and not let them go until the last line of the story.

Make your opening sentences count. Start at the heart of the action; jump right in take your reader along for the ride, make them want to know more about your characters and what might happen to them.

Chapter Cliffhangers

Chapter end teases are those ‘dangle the carrot’ moments at the end of a chapter, a way of luring the reader to turn the page and read on. They don’t have to be overt, they can be quite subtle – your reader is smart enough to understand and interpret them. 

These small ‘cliff hangers’ are there to intrigue your reader, to pique their interest to go straight to the next chapter.

There are no written rules - you don’t have to do it for every single chapter end, but it certainly helps to maintain reader interest wherever possible but hinting at something about to happen or luring with a promise of action to come.

Here’s a chapter end from my second novel, which shows how simple and effective they can be:

The Luger lay in the snow a few feet away.
Drecshler unclipped the holster, drew out his PPK, cocked it.
Dmitry reached for the Luger, grabbed it and spun round, trigger poised. Adrenaline surged, blocked out the cold that clawed his flesh.
Drecshler aimed.
Two men. Two guns. Silence.


Symbols & Foreshadowing

Another way to tease the reader is with the use of symbolic overtones. While the narrative and dialogue must work to drive the story forward, it should also act as a catalyst to spark a reader’s curiosity with use of visual clues. 

In fiction, symbols are often underused, but if handled well, they can easily lure your reader. Again, you don’t have to be overt – subtlety is the key.

For instance, Dmitry, (the character shown above) is a Russian peasant farmer and hunter, like his father. In several scenes early in the story, Dmitry talks of his prowess at hunting, his skill with a rifle.  While this might seem insignificant, it is referred to several times in various chapters – I’ve subliminally planted the seed of intrigue for the events to come; the reader will know his skills with a rifle will become significant later in the novel, and so they are tempted with a promise of something more.

Recurring symbols can be anything you want them to be. Colours, objects, people, animals, the elements, sounds etc, so don’t be afraid to use them in your story.

Another way to entice the reader is through dialogue. I make references to Dmitry’s desire to avenge his young brother’s death at the hands of a sniper, all done through hinting this within dialogue with other characters. This desire is firmly planted in the reader’s psyche – they will know this revenge will happen, but they have to keep reading to find out when and how.

This kind of foreshadowing lights the way for the reader to look forward to events to come, it’s a guessing game, part of the enjoyment of reading a story, of caring and empathising with characters, and to wonder what will happen to them as the story races to its conclusion.

Planting Clues

Planting subtle clues keeps the reader focused by exposing a little information at a time to get your reader salivating. Think of a strip tease; it’s provocative, it reveals a little bit at a time, it plays with you, it makes the mind imagine what’s beneath the clothes. Planting clues in fiction acts the same way by making the reader imagine what will happen.

Objects provide great sources of clue planting, perfect for becoming significant later in a story, like a knife or a gun, a piece of clothing or jewellery, or it might be a car etc. It can be anything.

Of course, if you feel particularly confident, you might also try toying with your reader by planting false clues (red herrings) to keep their interest heightened and to crank up the tension. This is particularly effective in crime novels and thrillers because every reader loves trying to guess ‘who dunnit’.

They also love to guess ‘what will happen next?’

Dialogue clues work well in the same way, too, like one character hinting something to another character, or revealing something in secret.

And of course, clues dropped into the narrative also act as a lure. Hinting at things that may or may not be relevant later in the novel still has the power to draw your reader into turning the page.

Exploit the reader’s curiosity at every opportunity. Provoke them into constantly asking questions – the why, the what, the where, when and how? Dangle a metaphoric carrot, lead them into dead ends, tickle their curiosity, play with their minds...

Above all, make them turn the page to keep reading.


Next week: The importance of the opening chapter

2 comments:

  1. Great advice. I agree that symbols are under used. They can be so powerful.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Lynda.

    I think I will explore the relationship with sybolism and forshadowing in a later article.

    ReplyDelete