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Writing A Novel That Gets Readers Thinking, by Onil Lad

In his speech The Clues to a Great Story filmmaker Andrew Stanton stated that the movies that worked best were the ones where the audience “worked it out for themselves” without realising it, before being told what was happening. 

I tried to create the same effect for my novel by dropping hints, leaving clues and trying to reveal the story through successive chapters rather than bogging the story down in long descriptions and explanations.  

Recent feedback for my manuscript has been along the lines of “tell me everything now”. No drip feeding or ambiguity, especially at the start. Tell us what’s going on without mucking about. 

Some of my favourite novels are told in such a way that all the elements combine and you go, “Yes, of course I should have known. How clever was that?” Working it all out is part of the fun for me. 

I remember a grumpy writer who refused to spell anything out for his diminishing reader base. This is all well and good if you are already established and successful, but not everyone wants to toil for their entertainment, especially in these days of short attention spans.  

The difference with Andrew Stanton is that he wasn’t hiding the fact that the reader would have to work. This was the problem I was having with my first chapter. I expected the reader to do too much.

When you feel the need to draw the reader into your story in ways that have drawn you into your personal favourite novels, this can lead to over-indulgence in your own writing, be it long descriptive sentences, cryptic openings or, in my case, too much internal dialogue. 

A friend of mine recently told me how frustrated she became trying to read Moby Dick. She said that I should make my novel easy to read, like Harry Potter. It’s not that straightforward though. Depending on which review you read, Moby Dick is described as the Great American Novel or the Great American Unread Novel. Part of the enjoyment in reading books that require an additional amount of focus is immersing yourself in a text. If you can get into it, then these stories end up being more memorable than an escapist read. 

Still, I’d prefer to be Harry Potter, that’s for sure, so I’m trying get my point across in a more direct way by revealing as much as possible at the start to keep the interest up and the story flowing. Once the reader is engaged, maybe then I can be a bit more adventurous. I can’t remove all the internal dialogue – it’s my favourite part of storytelling – but I can keep it to a minimum so that it doesn’t get in the way of the plot. 

A fast talking work colleague used a long word in conversation and said, “There, that’s a good word for your novel”. It’s not about long words; it’s about enticing the reader into your story in the most efficient way so that they care about what you are trying to say. 

I don’t mind what the next person says when I give them my first chapter for review, I just don’t want them to tell me that they don’t understand what’s going on. 

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Onil Lad’s bio page

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Savage TideThe Indigo SkyWings of FearHouse for all Seasons by Jenn J McLeodThe Fortunes of Ruby White

Writing Novels in Australia
www.writingnovelsinaustralia.com

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thanks Onil for your essay. I walk a similar sort of tightrope with The Grey Silk Purse – all is not as it seems – particularly in the first sixty pages or so. I want the read to do some work as well but, like you, I don’t want to overly confuse them or make it so heard to read that they give up. It’s tricky, isn’t it?

    August 2, 2013

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