Whether your mouth salivates over the mere thought of a thick juicy rib eye steak marinated in honey mustard barbeque sauce, or drools over a creamy rich strawberry sundae with chocolate sprinkles, you must admit, the food industry KNOWS how to get you addicted. What are they doing? You don’t see people mainlining twinkies or selling their car to get another brownie, but still, people keep buying that stuff whether they need it or not. If only we could get people that hooked on reading our books.
When it comes to junk food (defined as something people do not need but want) the food industries focus on three main areas, these being Salt, Sugar, and Fat.
Salt is highly addictive. It regulates fluids and acts as a flavor enhancer. At the top of your tongue, you have special sensors called “taste buds” which recognize sweets and other specific flavors and send out pleasure signals to your brain. Fatty foods like chocolate, french fries, and pizza interact through texture and affect how different flavors are perceived. It’s not magic, it’s how the brain works.
When it comes to writing a great story, there are five basic elements which include: Characters, Setting, Plot, Conflict, and Resolution. To break this down further, in this article I will focus on what makes your reader want to explore your Plot. The Plot (sometimes referred to as the storyline) describes the events that make up your story. Every great plot needs three things: Questions, Engagement, and Conflict.
Questions – We are curious by nature, we want to discover things as we go. If you look at the original Harry Potter book, you find she started with many more questions than answers. Who is Harry Potter? Where did he get that scar? What happened to his parents? Who are the Dursleys? Plus, more. She does NOT start by giving you all the answers, she starts by creating intrigue and suspense.
Engagement – If a reader can not relate to one or more of the characters, they have no reason to continue. Like the first element, you do not start by giving every physical detail down to the size of his or her shoes. You want the reader to bond with your character. Whether they be the hero or the victim is not the point, does your reader have feelings for them? Important to note, the reader does not have to like them. Jack the Ripper is still a very engaging character.
Conflict – Get to the point, if the fate of the entire free world hangs in the balance, don’t wait until page 63 to casually mention there might be a problem here. Conflict is the glue that holds everything together. Boy versus girl, good verse evil, life verse death all grips the reader by the throat because the reader understands what is at stake. For conflict to be effective it must come often, and it must come quickly. This is your shock factor, this is what the reader is looking for. It could be man vs man or man vs the supernatural, but this is why your reader keeps turning the page.
These three areas are what appeal to most readers. These are the promises you make to let them know, yes, it will be worth the effort. Of course, if you make a promise, you better be able to keep it. Do not raise questions with no answers. Do not make us love someone then kill her three pages later (unless that’s motivation). Do not leave a conflict unresolved. It doesn’t have to be happy ever after, but there must be some kind of change.
In my humble opinion, you should always start with Engagement because once they are emotionally committed, you’ve made it personal and they want to continue. Face it, nobody NEEDS another fudge brownie. They reach for another because they want it. Focus on making your reader want to answer the questions and want to resolve the conflict. Remember Questions, Engagement, Conflict, repeat. This is the key to a great plot, a great story, and a great writing career.