Thursday, December 23, 2010

Seducing Readers Deeper into the Story

Reading thuRsday

I've heard the best books described as a hierarchy of enticements or compulsions: the first line encourages the reader to read the first paragraph; the first paragraph pulls them on to the first page; the first page pulls them into the first chapter; and so on.

As a principle, this seems like a sound and effective approach. But how do you pull it off in practice? How do you lure the reader from the beginning into the meat of the story?

Consider what Stephenie Meyer did with Twilight. At a structural level, she used a small mystery to seduce the reader into a larger mystery. Specifically, every-girl Bella arrives in Forks expecting that it will be a challenge to fit in. But her assumptions prove false: everybody likes her except one aloof boy who seems to hate her except when he's saving her life. This setup provides an irresistible emotional mystery for the book's target audience: what could possibly explain the anomalous behavior. The master stroke is that the answer to that mystery opens the door to the larger problem of the vampire story.

Love Twilight or loath it, you have to admit that it produced a strong reaction among its readers--like an emotional drug. We would do well to study and apply the pattern, seducing readers deeper into our own stories.

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn /

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