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Interest Readers or Die

The author knows

Writer Tips Advice Blog 1 Apr 21 by Lorenzo Samuel, author of speculative fiction writings. In the last Writer Tips Advice Blog, we went over how to interest readers with subplots. For this issue of the blog, I will take up another tip that relates to, can enhance, reader interest: consistency of story elements.

Edgar Allen Poe originated the modern short story. Also, he promoted rules of writing, and among those the following: Nothing in a short story should detract from the theme and plot of the story. Setting, ambiance, characterization, theme, tone and plot itself must all push forward the story line.

To say in the story that the main character always wore a yellow rose in his lapel must be meaningful in the story line. Why does he always wear a yellow rose? Should that tell us what he will do in the circumstances of the story? In Poe’s view, yes.

Perhaps, it means this man is one driven by habit. Or maybe it indicates something traumatic that happened to him in his past that’s required, or makes sense, for the resolution of the plot. It might be a symbol.

Perhaps we will put it there as a red herring to misdirect the reader, then expose its meaning in the resolution. The simple fact of the yellow rose could have levels of meaning: your story could contain successive revelations, each nearer to the truth, each shedding more light on the character or plot, each surprising and interesting the reader.

Take ambiance for another example: Is it dark or light? If it is dark, bad things might happen. If it is light, a reader might expect good things. What if you made it start out light, then it progressively it became darker? Could it mean that a good character has entered a dark scene or that the plot has become darker? You see, the play of ambiance on character or plot could provide reader interest. What’s going to happen?

The same could be produced by a repeating symbol. In the movie Diabolique, water appeared throughout the story. The villain was murdered by drowning, or so we were led to believe. The two women murderers supposedly disposed of his corpse in a scummed-over swimming pool. Rain constantly came down. The important parts of the story were wet. Consistency. Interest.

How about the interplay of character and plot? A character is portrayed as someone who would never commit a deed in the plot. Nevertheless, he is suspected. Why? Reader interest, being peaked, now must be satisfied. Late in the plot we see a darker side to the character that could cause readers to think he could be the perpetrator. However, circumstances show him to be innocent. Why? Heightened interest.

Artists, including writers, experiment. Poe’s rules concerning every element of a story leading to the resolution seem passé to many a modern writer. Nevertheless, his rules have a core of reason behind them. He wrote his rules for story telling to align with the reading habits of his day. What interested readers then may not be what interests readers now. However, the superior rule has always been, interest your readers, and that we must do at all costs.

In the next of the blog in the category of reader and writer tips, I’ll discuss characterization.

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