Christopher Paolini, author of the Inheritance cycle, is back at Lytherus with a new exclusive blog post! The author has been hard at work on various projects (many of which he teases through Twitter), recently finished a drawing of Brom to be featured in the upcoming tenth anniversary edition of Eragon (due out later this year).
Christopher is also currently participating in an online book signing, where fans of the Inheritance cycle can purchase books signed and personalized by the author himself! If you weren’t able to see Christopher during one of his tours, this is your chance to get a book — or the entire series — signed by Christopher and personalized to you! (The online book signing is also offering signed copies of the Deluxe Edition of Inheritance, which features a new epilogue-like letter from Jeod exploring life after the series ended, as well as copies of Eragon’s Guide to Alagaesia, an illustrated and narrated guide to the world of Alagaesia.)
Christopher took a break from work to pen a new blog post for Lytherus, this time exploring making a story interesting through the use of twists and more! The guest post is full of useful information for aspiring writers and interested readers alike.
Kvetha Fricaya. Greetings Friends.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about what makes a story interesting, both on the structural level and in the actual execution. What is it that grabs a reader’s attention and keeps him or her engrossed in a story from start to finish? Is it exciting action? Realistic and/or unusual characters? Sparkling dialogue? Elegant prose? Stimulating ideas? Exotic locations?
The problem is, there are plenty of well-written books (and by well-written I mean they keep you interested for the bulk of the story) that have a deficit in one or more of those areas. Some books lack action. Some propel the story forward with dialogue of the most utilitarian kind. Some have boring characters but exciting plots. Sometimes the reverse is true. And of course the quality of the prose often has little to do with whether or not people find a book interesting.
So, what’s the secret? I believe it’s what I think of as a twist. A twist isn’t necessarily a surprise or a cheap thrill. Instead, it’s a change of direction—sometimes big, sometimes small—that captures the reader’s attention. Humans are pattern-seeking animals, which means that we’re on the constant lookout for new information, information that expands or redefines the patterns of knowledge we’ve constructed in our minds. Provide us with a nugget of info that we weren’t previously aware of, and you satisfy a primal part of our nature. Especially if the info gives us a new perspective on what we already were aware of. Of a necessity, then, said information has to be relevant to the story. Random details/descriptions won’t cut it.
The concept of a twist can apply to every level of a story. On the macro level, it means that the author ought to always seek to push the story in new directions, both as a way of advancing the protagonist’s journey and as a way of commenting on what has gone before. E.g. Luke learns that he’s Darth Vader’s son. (One of the most famous examples of this.)
On the micro level, it seems to me that a writer ought to strive to give each chapter, paragraph, and yes, each sentence a twist. Contrast between parts is much of what drives interest, although again, the parts must relate to one another or you’ll lose your reader in a sea of unconnected details: Bob says, “I love you.” And then Carol says, “ That’s what you think.” Great! Now we’re interested. But only if the proceeding (or following) sentences, paragraphs, and chapters support this moment and are filled with similarly intriguing moments. Or in other words, with more twists.
What this means is that writers must strive with every line, every word, to find ways of subverting expectations, echoing and building upon previous moments, and in all ways seeking to tickle the brain of the reader with a constant stream of interesting facts. Informational density, I think, is crucial. Even if what you’re writing is an aside from the main storyline, it should still contain as much pertinent information to that moment as you can cram in.
Do that, and I’m confident you’ll be able to maintain your reader’s attention, no matter what your story is about.
Oh, and if you want to write a bestseller, it’s hard to go wrong with a story that features the powerless gaining power. It’s wish fulfillment at its most basic, and it’ll never go out of style.
Happy writing! And may your swords stay sharp.
P.S. Of course I’d recommend that you write about whatever it is you’re interested in the most. Trying to consciously write a bestseller is a fool’s game. If I’d done that, I would have ended up pumping out a mash-up of Tom Clancy and John Grisham. Probably something about a lawyer on a submarine who’s caught up events that could result in WWIII.
P.P.S. Mash-ups about dragons, magical swords, and evil villains are completely different, of course.