Rather like the adage, ‘show, don’t tell’, tempt, tease and tantalise should be a mantra for all writers to remember, simply because it embodies many of the ideals that writers should aim for within their writing.
The premise of these three elements is pretty self explanatory, but the basic idea is to tempt the reader, to draw them in to begin with, then to tease them with what the story might be, what might happen, what it offers, and then, ultimately, to tantalise them with the developing story right up until the dénouement.
Tempt your Reader
Right from the opening sentence, your story must grab the reader’s attention.
Your job as a writer is to lure the reader into reading more than the obligatory opening sentence; you have to entice and persuade them to read beyond that first page, then the second page and the third page and so on, always maintaining that level of interest. Make it difficult for them to leave it alone.
But why bother? Well, there is a very good reason. If you fail to engage the readers from the outset, they won’t bother reading past the first few paragraphs. It’s the difference between someone wanting to read the story or leaving alone. It’s a stark fact. Make no mistake; readers are very discerning. The first few lines really do sell the whole concept.
Of course, grabbing the reader’s attention doesn’t mean that you have to employ fireworks and explosions, or open with a definitive bang in order to grab the reader’s interest. Openings can be subtle yet intriguing. As long as the opening paragraph engages them, then you’ve managed to tempt them.
Tease your Reader
Once you’ve sufficiently engaged your reader and lured them into wanting to know more about your story and characters, then it’s time to tickle their interest further. It’s hard enough to grab them in the first place, but it’s just as hard to keep them reading until the end of the story. Writers do this by constantly teasing readers in order to maintain their attention.
But how do writers do it?
Teasing readers entails many elements at the writer’s disposal, some obvious, some not so obvious.
The most obvious teasers are things like interesting sub plots, forcing the reader to concentrate on several strands of the story rather than one main strand. Writers also plant many red herrings, making the reader believe they know what might happen, but often it means they’ve been cleverly fooled by the end of the story.
Teasing also means the writer poses questions within the narrative, just for the reader to figure out for themselves. They also deliberately wrong foot the reader by making make them guess at certain outcomes, but those outcomes are quite different at the final reveal.
The less obvious ways to tease the reader are to plant clues throughout the narrative for the reader to surmise, or to reveal snippets of information at key moments to keep the reader’s juices flowing, to keep them thinking, to keep them guessing, to keep them imagining.
Tantalise the reader
To tantalise and tease are pretty much the same, but it’s how a writer executes the way he or she tantalises the reader that counts. Tempting them to invest in your story is one thing, and then teasing them just adds to the thrill of it all. But never miss the opportunity to tantalise, too.
But what exactly does that mean?
If you have certain scenes within your novel that demand more than a straightforward tease, then a generous dose of excitement, danger, trepidation, emotion or fear always gets their juices flowing. This is where the narrative becomes tantalising.
The injection of emotion creates the right atmosphere for the story. Characters will always become embroiled in myriad emotions. Characters will always get into trouble or find the going tough. They will face danger. They will face their fears. They will undoubtedly feel excitement or trepidation (and a multitude of other emotions; whichever you decide).
This kind of thing will force readers to ask, ‘what will happen to them?’, ‘how will they get out of that situation?’ or ‘will they make it?’
Tantalising the reader involves writers openly flirting with their reader’s emotions all the way through the story, and right up to the end. At times it can be a merciless flirtation. Remember, every turn of the page must hold your reader’s interest.
Tempt, tease and tantalise from start to finish. Grab your reader, keep them interested and push them all the way to the conclusion.
Of course, the greatest tease is always, ‘how will the story end?’
How indeed. That all depends on how well the writer can tease, tempt and tantalise.
Next week: Themes – What are they and how are they used?