Saturday, May 14, 2011

Storymaker Conference - Report 4: Keeping Your Readers Up Past Their Bedtimes

I took two classes from Traci Abramson at Storymaker. I'd taken a class from her at the UVU Book Academy, too. She's got some very interesting real life experience, having worked for the CIA, which she does a good job bringing into her writing. I'm currently reading one of her books to my hubby, and he keeps dreaming about it.

Keep Your Readers Up
She helped define the difference between mystery (begins with a question) and suspense (begins with a threat). While both will have an element of suspense in them, both are meant to let both the reader and the character be scared.

Regarding the hook, I loved the way Traci phrased it. Say what you mean and then get out of the way. This made me think of my Show, Don't Tell class and the need to not tell the reader what they should be experiencing but letting them do that for themselves.

She quoted Alfred Hitchcock who said "emotion is an essential ingredient of suspense". It's important for the reader to make an emotional connection with the main character. I can vouch for this because there's a very popular writer out there who's put out a lot of books, but I haven't connected emotionally to the writer's main characters in a very long time. As a result, I haven't picked up a new book in several years.

It's important to make your reader curious. Like Hansel and Gretel, we need to leave breadcrumbs--not infodumps. Be careful about your scenes; every scene should move the story forward. Be realistic with your clues but don't be too obvious. This makes me think of Jo Rowling, who does a wonderful job with her clues and red herrings in the Harry Potter books. You really need to pay attention when you're reading because she has so many things hidden in plain sight.

You have to raise the stakes for your characters. I heard this over and over again in the conference. You have to be mean to your characters ... and then be meaner. Make it hard on them. Danger and time pressure add to the suspense. But be realistic, plausible. Don't give the reader a "Yeah, right" moment.

Use action words and sentence structure to move the story along at a quicker pace. Don't let description slow the action down. I've read books where the writer did that. O_o Totally kills that feverish, forward motion.

Do you have guidelines for breaking chapters to keep your readers reading?


  1. 'Leaving breadcrumbs' - that's a good way of looking at it.

    Emotional connection is vital to me as well, when I'm reading. If I connect to the main characters, I'm very forgiving on other aspects of a novel.

    Great post, thanks! :-)

  2. K.C., I'm with you. As I mentioned in the post, if a writer quits making me connect emotionally with characters, I quit reading. My reading time is so limited anyway I need to make it count.

  3. Great information on the difference between suspense and mystery. I try to drop a little hint at things to come at the end of a chapter in hopes that someone will read on.

  4. Really great post, I like the how the difference between suspense and mystery is explained and also love the leaving breadcrumbs idea.

    As far as ending my chapters, I usually like to leave either a cliffhanger at the end or leave them with a bombshell piece of information, if that makes any sense. :)

  5. Loved this post. I wasn't able to make that class and you summed it up quick and easy. Thanks.
    And thanks for following my blog.


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