If you’ve been writing fiction for a while, you know that there’s a lot to keep in mind when you’re writing a novel. Not only do you need to develop your characters and plot, you also need to excite and intrigue your readers.
There’s a way to do that: curiosity.
Why curiosity, of all things?
Fiction writing: when they’re curious, readers keep reading
From Lisa Cron, in Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence:
… being curious is necessary for survival (What’s that rustling in the bushes?), nature encourages it… once your curiosity is roused as a reader, you have an emotional, vested interest in finding out what happens next.
When readers want to know what happens next, they’ll keep reading, long past their bedtime.
So — HOW do you arouse your readers’ curiosity?
Let’s look at three tips to help you to do that.
1. Withhold information: avoid explanations
You want readers not only to become curious, you want their curiosity to build until it becomes concern, anxiety… and even FEAR for your characters.
Simply put, if your readers don’t care what happens next, they’ll stop reading.
Resist the Impulse to Explain
New writers start off great. They get the woman in the trunk of the car (or create some other hot action which starts things off.) Then they feel they need to explain who the woman is, and how she landed in the trunk of a car. They go on for pages and pages. RESIST! Please do not do this.
For one thing, your readers don’t care. They’re in your story, because you’ve done a good job getting them to empathize with your heroine’s plight. They want to know what happens next.
2. Deliver the unexpected: shock and surprise readers
Have you seen the Bruce Willis movie, The Sixth Sense? Yes, that’s the “I see dead people” one. That movie is an amazing example of using surprise; as is the shower scene in the Alfred Hitchcock version of the movie, Psycho.
You don’t need to kill people to provide a little shock and surprise for your readers. Keep surprise readers in mind while you’re writing, and you’ll find clever ways to do it.
Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl inspired lots of “shock and surprise” novels, which develop a new twist on the genre of dark psychological thrillers.
3. “Who wins?”: ensure that readers care about the outcome of your novel
Readers don’t have to like your characters, but they do need to care about what happens to them. Yes, that’s curiosity again; your readers must want to know what happens next.
Speaking of the rise in popularity of psychological thrillers like Gone Girl, most of the novels in this genre feature unlikable characters, but readers keep reading, because they care about what happens next.
For the ultimate in unlikable characters about whom we’re curious, there’s Becky Sharp. I’ve just finished reading Thackeray’s Vanity Fair again. Thackeray wrote when the Regency period was still in living memory.
Over the years, I’ve read Vanity Fair many times, but this time Becky filled me with horror at her machinations; it’s the first time I’ve had that reaction to the book. None of the characters in Vanity Fair are likable, but Thackeray keeps readers wanting to know what happens next.