Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What Sucks (us in)


In Praise of the Skeptical Reader

I just sent 4 chapters to somebody I've decided is CRITICAL in my writing process... the NON-writing skeptical reader—the woman who loves a REALLY GREAT read that sucks her in who DOESN'T get caught up on all the 'supposed to' stuff my writer friends know, but rather is more a 'general public' voice. She loves some of my genres... done well... but she regularly sets books aside if she hasn't been sucked in by chapter 2. She's NOT a big fan of cozies (they are a bit too light for her) but she was a HUGE cheerleader for A Shot in the Light. She is a giant James Patterson fan and loves Janet Evanovich. She is in many ways 'every reader'.

When my agent read the first 3rd of What Ales Me part of her feedback was 'more tension' and she had a WHOLE bunch of things she recommended I move forward and stuff that was TOO MUCH DETAIL. My neighbor is the PERFECT test for whether I succeeded in making these fixes.

Palpable tension, eh?
Granted, I haven't succeeded YET. What I've done with revisions is the EASY stuff and then marking scenes that need to be written for larger scale revisions. I also have a page of stuff to build in SOMEWHERE, which I will do once I get my beat sheet updated so I can see where the new stuff best fits. But my first four chapters have been revised, other than a final polish, so I thought it would be a good idea to test it on this 'every reader' friend.


Got me thinking about HOOKS more broadly. This same friend is a third of a group of us that watches a bit of TV together—we seem to have a show a season... Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones... right now it is Outlander... and this friend took until episode 5 to be sucked in...


So WHAT sucks us IN?

It is an interesting question, since the OTHER two thirds of us were sucked in immediately. But I had some background—I'd heard enough about the series to know things I was looking forward to before the stuff was actually there. Our third is more interested, I think, in the romantic angle, though she will say “I am not” next time I see her—but she is younger and the temptation of Jamie I think may have some traction with her that for us middle age women, while we appreciate young hot men, just isn't enough...

There was a similar dynamic to Downton Abbey—Ms. Slow-to-warm-up Skeptical neighbor needed about 4 episodes.

An Awkward position for siblings...
If we contrast this show to Game of Thrones... ALL of us fell in love here RIGHT away.


I think this all may speak to the value of shock value, or HIGH dramatic tension. It ALSO should speak to all of us... There are people who will keep reading because they like our genre, they like US, or they like some specific detail we include early. But if we want to appeal more broadly, we need to do something EARLY that sucks in the EVERY reader.

So do YOU have any tricks to sucking in EVERY READER? Ways you frontload the tension or the emotional bond readers have with your story?

11 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Heck, I still haven't figured it out. If you do, please let me know.

Teresa Powell Coltrin said...

I think I like supense with a question leftover in my mind. Long sentences followed by short ones.

The problem is everyone that reads our stories have different tastes and expectations. So write what sucks you in and you'll take some on your journey.

Deniz Bevan said...

Yay for Outlander!

Carol Kilgore said...

As a writer, I'm still searching for the magic formula. As a reader, It's all about page one. And page two if something exciting is beginning on the first page. It's not always the same thing. It can be voice or action or suspense or a question. I'm not the analytical type, so it's hard for me to pinpoint.

Cherie Reich said...

I wish there was one way to suck a reader into the story. Unfortunately every story is different just like every reader.

Andrew Leon said...

I've watched all of GoT that Netflix has (because my wife likes it), and I still haven't been sucked in. I could never watch it again and be perfectly okay. Martin tosses too much logic out of the window for me.

I'm not sucked into Downton, either (watch it for the same reason), but I do like some of the relationships (especially the two old women; they get the best lines).

Helena said...

If it's any comfort, the first spec script for Game of Thrones was so bad the two writers had to pretty much toss it out and start all over.

I get sucked into stories when I really care about one or more of the characters and there's something important at stake for them--could be a material thing, life or death, or emotions. But I've yet to find any magic button that definitely does the job.

Sherry Ellis said...

I think it's hard to find something that sucks everyone in, but I think you need to introduce a conflict and memorable characters early in the story to get readers interested.

Romance Reader said...

I've been hearing good things about The Outlander...have to check it out now!

CA Heaven said...

I can be sucked in by many things; a good story, Interesting thought and views, or just great language. The best is all three things at the same tiime

Cold As Heaven

G. B. Miller said...

I haven't gotten the knack of that yet, although I know what I don't like (mostly literary fiction/non-fiction) so I make sure that it doesn't creep into my writing.

I think though, a good plot, or the beginning of a good plot, would help tremendously, especially if you write the kind of stuff that there's no happy medium in (sex). If you can hook the kind of readers that will absorb something that they don't like, only because it's relevant to the story/moves the story along, then you got half the battle won.

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