Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Fast Reads = Better Stories 5 - Special tricks

The main tools for creating fast reads are clarity, emotional engagement, and raising questions. In this series, I've suggested some the dos and don'ts of backstory, dialogue, characters, and action for those who want to write page-turning stories.

Before I leave this topic, I'd like to present a few tricks for breaking things up and, sometimes, adding a little spice. These should not be overdone or they can wreck the continuity and even give a reader a comfortable place to put down the book. But, when a story that is otherwise working feels like it is slowing, these tricks can pick up the pace.

White space. The appearance on the page makes a difference. In our attention deficit society, when a paragraph fills a page, readers are likely to feel overwhelmed and move onto a video game or a TV show. Even when, formally, your paragraphs make sense, it is a good idea to scan your manuscript for long sections without much white space and break up the paragraphs.

Short scenes and chapters. Providing you are taking care to raise questions and propel readers forward, consider using shorter scenes from time to time and chapters that have fewer scenes. This can be especially valuable near the end of a novel where the reader may be feeling fatigued. Overall, with pages literally turning more quickly, it will feel as if the story is speeding up and the work of reading is all downhill. Just don't violate the sense of immersion or provide easy stopping points.

Artifacts. One of the joys of Dune is the use of quotes, essays, prayers, and other artifacts throughout (especially at the beginnings of chapters). These provide a different voice and hint at a bigger, unexplored world. Tolkien uses poetry and songs. Other authors use letters and even snatches of film scripts.

These add variety if you don't use them in a haphazard manner. I follow two rules of thumb when they are included in one of my manuscripts. The first is that they must not just be placeholders. If they don't add to the story and increase my interest in it, they get removed and replaced. The second is they need to come at about the same rate. Having a bunch of artifacts at the beginning of a story and not at the end, or vice versa, knocks things out of balance.

There's more you can do the create fast reads. You can take advantage of a distinctive voice (your own or a characters) that charms the reader. Or use the traditional tools, hooks and cliffhangers. And, of course, a rich premise that pays off in anticipated and surprising ways can keep readers engaged.

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