I’m reading this book and it’s predictable. Which isn’t awful. The characters are amusing enough and it’s not great, but it’s not bad. But it got me thinking…
I’ve also been reading this book a little bit every night before bed. I think I started, I mean really I started a few weeks ago, put it down for a week or so then finally picked it back up. I never read like that. I sit and read books. I immerse myself in the world, resent having to put them down to eat or drink or whatever and finish them in a few hours. This is why I find bookmarks an implicit defeat – I finally had to put the book down for some reason. Unless they’re over 450 pages and then I read it over 2 or 3 days depending on how interested I am in the story.
The point is, what was it about this book that I was able to so casually put it down? Then I realized, there’s zero story tension. Again, in this book I don’t mind it. But that’s how I made the connection between predictability and story tension.
Everyone has read a predictable book. Sometimes it bothers you that you know exactly what’s going to happen next and sometimes, not so much. But predictability eradicates story tension. So, then the characters have to work harder to make up the deficiency.
I’ve been thinking a lot about story tension in my own writing. How does one create it in the reader? What are the tricks and the tools and the pacing. Because I write third person omniscient. I pretty much just lay it out there for my reader – every emotion, every motivation – cards on the table. So, then how do I also generate tension when there’s less mystery?
Because the unknown is one of the easy ways to create story tension. I have to keep reading because I have to know. Who the bad guy is or where the treasure is hiding; what are they going to find or when is that character going to find out! And then there’s the romantic tension – when are they going to get together?!
It all plays into engaging the reader. If they know what’s going to happen next in the plot you have to work that much harder to create it in other places. Or compensate for that tension in other ways.
Or…. lay a trail of crumbs that makes the reader think the story is predictable to lull them into their expectations just so you can subvert them. That would be awesome too.