Enticing a Reader's Curiosity
In my experience as a reader, there are four general stages of reading a good book, and all of them revolve around curiosity. From the initial attention-grab through the late night ‘just one more chapter’ arguments, a phenomenal book will pull a reader through these four stages.
I Wonder What that’s About.
My book collection is eclectic. It spans everything from horror to dramas and encompasses several shelves of wide-ranging non-fiction. The one common thing that almost every book on my shelves share is their ability to grab my attention. The cover art for Cinder reminded me of childhood fairy tales, I HAD to know what Sleeping Beauties was about, and I’m a sucker for titles that hint at a psychological thriller (think: The Silent Patient).
My brain is naturally attracted to the things in life I am most curious about. Cover art and titles that speak directly to my curiosity will almost always pull me in and have me asking, “What is this about?”
Does the title of your book grab the attention of your target audience? Does your cover art do justice for your title? Would you pull your book off the shelf? Consider the various ways your book’s title and cover will resonate with your audience and work toward connecting to their curiosity.
That Sounds Interesting
Like most readers, the next step is to review the back cover to determine if it is a good fit for my interests. Does it continue to call to my curiosity? In one of my recent raids on Barnes and Noble, I came across a book called The Chain. Its blood red and midnight black cover called to me. I could tell something messed up happened in the book. Eagerly, I turned the book over and read the back cover:
“You just dropped off your child at the bus stop.
A panicked stranger calls your phone.
Your child has been kidnapped.
The stranger then explains that their child has also been kidnapped, by a completely different stranger.
The only way to get your child back is to kidnap another child.
You are now part of the chain.”
Sold. I immediately added it to my growing pile of books, and all it took was 57 words. This back cover was so successful for me because it left so many unanswered questions. Where do the kidnapped children go? What do you do when you kidnap a child? When do you get your child back? Who is behind this horrific circumstance? What is the chain, and why does it exist?
It’s the variety of unanswered questions that lured me into the purchase of the book, and I can only imagine that the rest of the book is question-driven. Unanswered questions are like drugs for the human brain. It’s why unsolved murders are historically popular – we crave to answer the unanswerable.
If there is always a question your reader is facing, it will undoubtedly keep their attention. This means not only creating one central plot-driving question but the chapter-to-chapter questions that keep your characters and subplots interesting.
What Happens Next?
Once I’ve got the book at home, it usually doesn’t take me long to dive into the first chapter. The best books do two important things at this point:
1) Avoid large info dumps.
2) Plant seeds, leave clues, and foreshadow future plot points.
Experienced writers have an innate gift for drip-feeding important information throughout the story. Readers don’t need all of the information up front. It gives them the impression they have everything they need to figure out the ending. Even if their guess is wrong, they’ve likely put the book down before they realize the mistake.
Give your readers a chance to fill in the information gaps for themselves. Provide just enough clues and evidence for a reader to make and adjust their predictions as they continue to read.
I Know it’s 2 a.m., but I Can’t Stop!
I am not typically someone who abandons a book down once I get started, even if I don’t particularly like it. However, there are two reasons for I have walked away from a novel in the past:
1) Uninteresting or frustrating characters
2) Predictable plots
While character development is an entirely different topic, it’s predictable plots that disrupt a reader’s curiosity. My favorite books are the ones that leave me speechless or in shock. At a particular moment in the book Gone Girl, I remember audibly shouting, ‘What?’ I flew through the rest of that book and finished it that very day. I couldn’t put it down.
If your curiosity isn’t ignited, neither is your readers’. It’s your job to shock them. Put your character in a situation that drives them toward unpredictable action. Challenge your reader’s assumptions. Give them just enough to keep them reading but not quite enough to figure out where the story is going next. Make them shout ‘What?’ as they turn the pages in a mad fury to get to the end.