Thursday, September 6, 2018

How to Create Fiction Readers Can’t Put Down

I’m going to make this brief—short and sweet just as it deserves to be.

My advice: WRITE TIGHT!

Stephen King once wrote a great article on this topic. He explained how it’s necessary to eliminate unneeded verbiage. His advice: avoid repetitions and redundancies. Of course, you will only recognize this if you revise ruthlessly. Self-editing is crucial.

My suggestion: Put away your work of genius for a time. Work on something else. Then come back to it at a later date when you can examine the initial writing with fresh, critical eyes. Trade your writer’s hat for that of editor.

Victorian writers could get away with long descriptive passages but there was no television, computers or smart phones in their era. People were willing and eager to read long books and stories for recreational entertainment. Not long ago I read that the average attention span of today’s readers was shorter than that of a fruit fly. So we must cleverly contrive not to lose their attention.

How to do this? Start a book or story in medias res. Begin in the middle of a scene of some significance. Something important should be happening. Dialogue and action are crucial. You don’t want a static beginning. Description, internal monologue, narration, flashback and reflections all have their place, but they need to be limited, and they should not occur at the beginning of a work.

Instead, intrigue the reader by starting with some form of mystery. Make your reader curious from the first and then keep them guessing. Don’t slow the pace. Keep the tension building. Increase the danger and/or the obstacles. This goes for any genre of fiction whether it is romance, sci-fi, mystery, literary etc.

I was very pleased with the statement of the reviewer for LIBRARY JOURNAL who wrote regarding my latest mystery novel 

“The plot kept this reviewer turning the pages."

Your thoughts and comments welcome.


  1. Jacqueline,
    Good post and good suggestions. I think "write tight" is a rhyming version of "practice minimalist writing." Verbose narrative doesn't even work in sci-fi where world-building is required. We should describe our fictional worlds and our characters just enough so that readers can form their own images, thus participating in the creative process. How minimum is minimalist enough? The Goldilocks Principle applies here: not too much, not too little, just enough to keep the reader turning the pages. The plot must flow from beginning to end.

    1. Well-stated, Steven. That's why good editing is so important.

  2. Good advice, Jacquie. One of the best editing exercises is to read through a ms and eliminate every word that doesn't drive the plot--tighten sentences, shorten paragraphs. And of course, write a compelling story with fascinating characters.

    1. Susan,

      So true! I'll be discussing character in my next blog.

  3. Great reminder, Jacquie :) My most recent piece begins in the middle of the scene. But, what a terrible thing that we're trying to write for a fruit fly. It surely makes our task more difficult, since those writing, are hopefully well advanced from that intellect. The advice, of course, is right for the times, but still...fruit flies...who'd have envisioned this? lol

  4. Loretta,

    If the article I read was correct, the comment was that the writer has 7 seconds to engage the attention of the average reader--and yes, that is frightening! But luckily, it doesn't apply to all readers, well, at least I hope not.

  5. Jacquie,
    Great advice! Another important thing to do is to have beta readers. Their eyes will (hopefully) catch what ours can't.

    1. Pat,

      I realize many writers benefit from beta readers. But I don't know much about it myself.

  6. Always GREAT advice, Jacquie!
    THANKS for sharing
    Good luck and God's blessings

  7. Pam,

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  8. Excellent points, Jacqueline, and right on the mark, as you always are.

  9. Earl,

    Thanks for dropping by and commenting.

  10. Excellent points, Jacquie, and that review certainly shows you know what you're talking about.