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I Can't Put It Down - How
to Write Compelling Fiction
by Rob Parnell
times have you heard people say this about a book? Have
you ever analyzed the books that people say this about?
They all share one secret in common.
Reading is not a passive exercise. Not to the brain,
As you read and take in the information on the page, the
brain is trying to work out where the story is going,
what significance certain actions might have. Its
also trying to work out puzzles and generally try to
second-guess the plot.
This is human nature. Its what makes reading an
interactive experience--where you have a kind of
relationship with the author for as long as youre
Stories that dont make the reader ask questions are
unsatisfying to read, as are stories where the reader
guesses the outcome.
Many writers forget this and write aimlessly in the hope
that the reader will like their style and want to read
on, no matter what.
This is not a strategy for success! In order to be in
control of your story--and your reader, you, the writer
should feed them questions.
This is not as difficult as it sounds.
First you need the major question--your books
reason for being, if you like.
This is in essence the theme of your novel
summed up in one sentence.
Questions like Does money create happiness?
or Will good triumph over evil? You
should subtly place this question in the mind of your
reader quite early on in your book, so that the reader is
already on a kind of quest for the truth.
Next you have chapter questions that are more specific to
your characters. Like Will Alex overcome his
problems? or Will Sally win the love
of her father? This gives your reader a reason
to read on--just to find out!
Then, you should have smaller questions at every point
you can - at least one every 500 words.
Heres an example:
Lucy went to see her father. He was angry that
she was seeing Brad but she told him there was nothing he
could do about it
Obviously this is flat and lifeless prose that invites no
great speculation. How about this?
Lucy stared at her fathers implacable
face. When he was like this, she couldnt gauge his
feelings. She swallowed hard. If he was angry, shed
end up with nowhere to live.
I wont stop seeing Brad, she said, not
quite believing her own words.
You see the difference?
In the second passage the reader is forced to ask three
1. Whats her father thinking?
2. Will Lucy get kicked out?
3. Will she carry on seeing Brad?
Rather than simply stating what your characters think and
do, always try to leave an element of uncertainty in the
readers mind as to what will happen next.
The trick is to get your reader asking questions
constantly. Yes - on every page, so that theres a
compulsive need to turn the page, if only to find out the
Good novelists do this unconsciously--they know its
the best way to tell a story.
Good crime novelists deliberately get you to ask all the
WRONG questions so that their plot twists are far more
People keep turning the page in best selling novels
because they are in a constant state of limbo--ignorant
of whats coming next but eager to find out. In
effect, its almost a state of agitation, even
frustration that will keep a reader turning the page.
Has this happened to you?
Its weird because you almost HATE what youre
readingthere are so many unanswered questions--but
you just cant put it down!
© Copyright 2005 Rob Parnell. All Rights Reserved.
first literary work was a play, written at 9 years old
and staged in a neighbour's garden! Twenty years later
he'd written for Channel 4, Sky, The Independent, Time
Out and numerous other magazines. He's also the author of
the best-selling book "The Easy Way to
Write a Novel".
Nowadays he concentrates on his dark fantasy novels,
short stories and coaching his online students. He lives
without a cat in Adelaide, Australia.
Visit Rob's site here: http://www.easywaytowrite.com