Keeping readers hooked and engaged for a whole novel isn't always the easiest thing to do while writing a book. We all know it's best to show, not tell, and that action and suspense keep the story interesting. But how should writers approach this? Author extraordinaire Eve Silver, who's celebrating the release of Push, has a memorable mnemonic device to help you keep readers engaged. Take a look:
Engage readers through action and suspense. Sounds simple, right? Put a ton of fight scenes, explosions, car chases or steamy love scenes on the page and you have action and suspense. Or do you? The truth is, readers have already read scenes like this over and over again. So what makes your story stand out? What makes it lure the reader to anticipate every word?
The answer is A.C.T.I.O.N.
A — Get the Action on the page, not just the mechanics of the battle, argument, car chase, or love scene, but the nuanced emotional responses that the characters have to the events as they unfold. Get inside the heroine’s head and let the reader experience her turmoil and conflict as she’s forced to choose between saving her best friend or saving herself. Let the reader experience the hero’s emotional struggle when he’s putting on a happy face at his sister’s wedding while behind the scenes his company is sinking to the bottom of an endless pit. Action isn’t defined by how many cars blow up, it’s defined by how much the reader cares about the characters affected by the explosion.
C — Characters matter. Create characters that your readers can love, hate, cheer for, identify with and worry about. Give the characters positive traits that make them deserving and flaws that make them vulnerable without making them weak. Make your readers care about the character and because they care, they’ll be biting their nails with each challenge the character faces.
T — Amp up the Tension. Create emotional friction not just between the hero and the villain, but between the hero and his friends, family and supporters. Layer hints about each character’s inner conflicts and core beliefs and have them clash in subtle, or not-so-subtle ways. Whether you’re writing dialogue or a love scene or a descriptive scene of the setting, add emotion to your prose. Remember, it isn’t just about describing the setting as the hero stands on a hill overlooking the calm sea, a smooth expanse of jewel blue. It’s about that description juxtaposed with him remembering the day he stood on this hill when the sea was anything but calm, the day his best friend never made it back to shore.
I — Increase the pressure. Add a ticking clock so that the character isn’t just trying to achieve his goal, but rather must achieve that goal within a tight time frame. Undermine the heroine by cutting off her escape routes and separating her from the support of family and friends. Create an emotional time bomb that explodes at the worst possible moment. Create conflict between the hero and … everyone: the antagonist, the hero’s friends and family, forces of nature, even the hero himself — give him an impossible challenge and choices that test his courage and core beliefs.
O — Create a strong Opponent. The antagonist of the story doesn’t have to be a villain. In fact, the moustache-twirling, evil villain is a cliché that can deflate the tension in the story. Evil is predictable and that makes it boring. The antagonist should have clear motivations and a code he adheres to. No matter how horrific the antagonist’s goal, it should make perfect sense to him, the terrible things he does justified in his mind by the outcome he anticipates. Give the antagonist admirable qualities. Make him sympathetic to the reader on some level. Make him strong, preferably stronger than the heroine, and have his victories over the heroine make him stronger still. Through layers and depth create a strong opponent who is admirable yet despicable, one worthy of the story.
N — Keep the Narrative moving. Open the story in a strong way that poses a question in readers’ minds and lures them to turn the pages to find out the answer. Have the hero face obstacles/problems in each scene to heighten the tension; these obstacles may relate to the overarching goal of the story or to an internal conflict the hero must face. Use foreshadowing and reversal of the hero’s fortunes to keep the reader engaged. Create scene and chapter ending that maximize suspense.
Use A.C.T.I.O.N. to create action.
- Eve Silver
Be sure to remember A.C.T.I.O.N. the next time you sit down to write! And for more YA authors, writign advice and books, visit our Everything YA page!