Giving it all away

There’s a trick to storytelling, to capturing our readers’ attention, and it’s not just about piling on the details and descriptions. We have to maintain some mystery. If we reveal too much too soon, our constant reader will work out what’s going to happen, their curiosity will wane and they’ll lose interest. In the process, we’ll destroy the narrative tension. There’s no harm in dropping hints along the way; that’s how we hook our readers attention and keep them gripped.

So we need to pay attention to what we want to tell our readers, and when we should tell them, and give them a reason to carry on reading. There are hundreds, thousands of other books they can choose instead of this one, so leave the resolution of the mystery until near the end of the story.

Remember to start your novel in the middle of the action. There’s little point in going into raptures about your main character’s genteel and protected childhood, or waxing lyrical about the effect of the weather on the surrounding countryside if neither is going to have an impact on the story or what happens next, and doesn’t actually tell the reader anything he needs to know.

Your story should move along at a god clip – much better than boring your readers with too slow a pace – but don’t go so fast that you leave them bewildered. In the rush to get it all out it’s easy to miss vital plot points, confuse timescales and forget to explain that sudden appearance of the mysterious character in chapter three.

Don’t forget the element of surprise; build the suspense in a chain of consequences so your reader is always wondering what is coming next. Readers like to work things out for themselves. Give them a reason to keep turning the pages and you’ll hold their interest to the end.

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8 thoughts on “Giving it all away

  1. This is something I am struggling with right now. I am outlining my WIP and am worried I’m not getting to the action quick enough. But this is where outlining comes in handy, especially using software like Scrivener. I can go through my work scene by scene and rearrange or cut as necessary. I suspect I will need to move some of my later scenes to earlier in the novel. This is much easier to do at this stage than if I had already written all the scenes as full chapters, a mistake I’ve made in the past.

  2. Me too! It’s so disheartening when you realise a major re-write is required. These days I tend to write in episodes and stitch them together later to hopefully achieve the best dramatic effect.

  3. I’m afraid I need a major re write because I went astray and it means I keep putting it off. Fantastic post, thank you.

    • Don’t you just hate it when your characters go off and do their own thing, leaving you with a lot of work to haul the whole thing back on track?
      That’s also why I love it!
      Thanks for dropping by. 🙂

  4. Even when we find what we think is the right balance, there will always be some readers who think we should have given more information earlier and other who think we’re revealing too much too soon! Obviously we can’t please everyone, but sometimes it’s hard to know what to revise when different test readers make completely opposite comments!

    • And yet, I still really like those books where nothing much happens at all. Barbara Pym, Anne Tyler, Anita Brookner, they just seem to potter along, then wham! a devasting ending. That’s what I’m aiming for in my new novel, but I fear this exhalted company is too rich for my blood.

  5. I discovered my WIP “action” in the beginning is not “action” enough. I thought I was rockin’ the house but it was rather bland. Great post by the way!

    • How disappointing! We get so involved with the scene we can’t always disassociate ourselves. In one recent re-write I ditched pages of stuff I thought was funny when I first wrote it. Fortunately I saw it for the ‘so what?’ it really was before anyone else got a chance. 🙂

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