“I could not put it down”
I don’t often make posts offering writing advice, but given that today is the fourth anniversary of my blog, and from my Amazon reviews from High Moor and Moonstruck, a recurring theme is that the reader “could not put the book down”, I figured I’d share what little I’ve learned in the hope that it might be of some use.
The reason that the High Moor books keep getting comments like that is fairly simple. I write the books with that in mind. It’s absolutely deliberate.
If you are like me, you will have lost whole weekends to watching box sets of TV series at some point. For me, “24” was probably one of the worst culprits for making me lose two whole days, finding myself at 3am knowing that I need to go to bed, but I just had to watch one more episode.
Why does that happen? Because the bastards ratchet up the tension, increase the stakes and end every single episode on a cliffhanger. And for the most part, I try to do the same thing with my writing.
I remember reading an article a few years ago, that said a scene is basically structured the same way as a book. Look at them as the macro and micro. You start a scene, you create conflict within it, move the story forward, resolve the conflict (or at least change the dynamic of it) and then set up the next scene. I write each scene as if it were a short story in its own right. Infact, I’ve removed scenes from the books and turned them into short stories. And the prologue of Moonstruck was originally a short story I published on this blog. It replaced the original prologue a few weeks before I published the novel because it worked better. You can read the original prologue Here
The key here is conflict. That doesn’t necessarily just mean werewolves ripping each other apart. It can take the form of an argument, or something internal such as a character struggling with a decision. But each and every scene needs to have it, otherwise it’s a dead thing, taking up space in your book and in all likelihood, boring the piss out of your reader.
The other thing that Moonstruck especially was praised for was the structure of it’s action scenes. I had an email this evening, asking for some advice from someone who was writing a werewolf book and found that having their two beasts biting and clawing at each other was getting quite repetitive. I know the feeling, because it’s something I’ve wrestled with myself.
The most important thing to remember is that a fight scene is something dynamic. It shifts and moves like a living thing in it’s own right. And the environment is just as vital to the story as the antagonists. Two werewolves tearing strips off each other is going to get old, pretty damn quickly. Sticking those werewolves in a burning building, however, adds an additional threat. Something that’s out of the antagonists control. And when that building starts collapsing around them, it sets a clock ticking, which adds tension. Throw in some injuries to the one that your reader is rooting for, making him slower and less effective than the other one, and that cranks up the tension again. Add some sharp wooden spikes from collapsed roof beams, and maybe a hunter outside of the burning building, with a gun loaded with silver bullets and the tension goes through the roof.
No one wants to read a story where it’s too easy for your protagonist. A book being written by a member of my writing group suffers from that problem, His characters are overcoming everything that’s thrown at them and are coming off as invincible. You need to pile on the pressure. Keep making things worse and worse, until the reader just can’t see a way out for your character.
Then, if you are a bastard like me, you end the chapter and shift the focus to one of your other characters. Preferably one who’s in equally dire straits.
And then you repeat the process. That, my friends, is how you write a book that the reader can’t put down.