As these are notes for a workshop, they are not as full as they could
be. If you have any questions, please email me.
ALSO -- these
techniques are intended to help with editing and redrafting. My advice
is to write your book from your heart first.
YOUR READERS ACTIVE ONES
can be active, passive or challenged.
*Passive readers have everything laid out for them. They don't need to
think or work anything out it's all done for them. They merely
read and observe.
*Active readers engage with the text. They become intrigued by it, and
work to discover its secrets.
* Challenged readers have to work really hard to understand the text.
A passive reader will easily put down a text. An active reader will reluctantly
put it down. A challenged reader all too often tosses it across the room.
What do active readers do?
* engage with the characters and story.
* put clues together
* ask questions and read on, searching for the answers
* make hypotheses about what's going to happen next
* care about the characters
* barrack for (cheer on) the characters
* wonder about character(s) motivation
* test everything that happens against what they already know
So, how do you make your readers active ones? Through:-
4) Writing techniques
The core of your story is the conflict -- the barrier to love, the source
of tension -- the reason they can't have a nice straightforward happily-ever-
For the reader to feel satisfied, the hero and heroine have to earn their
happy ending. The more convincing and emotionally involving the barrier,
the more satisfactory the happy ending.
Really effective conflict involves powerful
emotions and builds up gradually through the book until you bring the
story to an emotional climax, having kept the readers on the edge of their
2) Story -- you need a good story.
Man meets woman and falls in love is not a story, it's everyday life.
Man falls in love with a woman who carries a secret which could destroy
his love -- and that has the makings of a story. eg movie Return to Me.
Try telling half the story -- does it have
that "Well don't stop now!" factor? If not, it's not a good
Active readers will
* care about the characters
* barrack for the characters (cheer them on)
* weep for them, laugh with them, worry for them,
feel for them.
factors to consider:-
a) Character appeal
Try to get your reader to care about the characters within the first few
pages. How? Make her appealing. Get readers interested. Give them a stake
in working out what makes her tick.
A common technique is to give her a problem, one which people can identify
with, a problem which matters.
* what does she want
* why can't she have it
Work out what do you find appealing in a heroine. What's not appealing?
b) complexity + consistency + paradox = intrigue
example of real conversation overheard
"Where's the air coming from?"
"Are you cold? Do you want the window closed?"
"No, I just need to know where the way out is."
This makes you wonder -- what does this person fear? Why?
Characters are often a little larger than
life. They are bolder, more tragic, and have more things happen to them.
Give them a crisis, choices, flaws, multi-dimensional personalities.
Exercise (1) -- see end of notes
c) Motivation, conflict, story-telling and emotion.
I think what a lot of people do -- and it doesn't work -- is work out
really terrific conflicts and motivations and then treat them as explanations.
Eg The heroine does X , which goes against all her interests, because
Y happened to her when she was a child.
We can understand why she does X -- but it doesn't hit us in the
An explanation doesn't make us weep, no matter
how well thought out and cleverly detailed. It doesn't generate emotion.
4) Writing techniques:
a) Show don't tell
Tell someone what to think and they raise an immediate barrier.
eg That man is a cruel, callous brute.
If you tell people that, they will wonder if you are right, or whether
you are being fair to the man in question. A whole lot of barriers can
be raised when you tell people what to think. At best their reaction will
probably be luke warm.
If you show readers a series of scenes or actions, get them to put
the picture together and let them decide the significance,
they have a stake in the outcome.
Like having a bet on a horse. You start to barrack. And that means there's
Show the man being a brute well enough and readers will hate him. And
emotional involvement with the character is active reading.
b) Make your characters' actions count.
Even small actions can carry weight, emotional significance, intrigue:
Example: which of these carry the most emotional weight. Why?
a) Staring at her, he put down his glass.
b) He glared at her and put down the glass with something of a snap.
c) Without taking his eyes off her, he set his glass very carefully, very
quietly on the placemat, dead centre.
c) Structure and pacing Beginnings, middles and ends
Open a scene or chapter with a hook... and end it with a cliff-hanger.
For active readership, the first page needs to:
*raise questions. The questions need to carry a sense of urgency or resonance,
a sense of repercussions -- so they have weight.
* try to get the reader to identify with the character
* toss you into the story
Exercise (2) Opening lines - see end of notes
Set up intrigues throughout your story
What central question in each scene/chapter/story will make the audience
want to read on?
The question must be important, have strong consequences (either way
- positive or negative), have emotional consequences.
If the scene causes change in the character(s) or situation, the question
changes too. Try to ensure there are small intrigues along the way
Exercise (3) small intrigues - see end of notes
(iii) Chapter endings what happens next
* the cliff hanger -- ends on a question, where you can't wait
to find out what happens next.
*tossing the gauntlet --a challenge of some sort
*the bombshell -- the surprise ending, which changes everything.
Exercise: go through a page-turning book you loved and look at chapter
endings. List ways in which the writer made the reader want to read on.
d) Purposeful scenes
Are you writing white noise?
I've often read chapters and scenes which are very well written and in
which there's a lot of stuff being done and said -- lots of sparky dialogue
and plenty of interesting action.
But there's nothing happening. And if there's nothing happening, the reader
What do I mean? If there's sparky dialogue and interesting action how
can there be nothing happening?
* Nothing at stake or no raising of the stakes.
* Nothing has been risked
* No central question that matters to the final outcome of the
* No character challenge being met or made.
* No new information that matters
* No threat to the status quo (or the relationship)
* No intrigue -- especially about the relationship -- to urge the
* No what's-going-to-happen-next factor
* No change in a character or situation
* No new ingredient added to the pot
* No problem revealed that matters to the final outcome of the
There's plenty of stuff done and said , but nothing of significance.
It's mostly white noise.
There is no white noise in fiction -- everything is (or should be)
significant. And in romance, it should relate in some way to the central
question, can these two people overcome obstacles and barriers to forge
a happy, loving relationship.
* * * *
Exercise (1) Building intrigue through
actions which resonate with questions and possibilities.
*The heroine is arranging flowers in a room full of people talking and
There is a sudden hush. She looks up and finds everyone staring at her.
They are also looking at someone behind her. She turns, sees the hero...
a) returns to her flower arranging, perhaps hurriedly, or a little clumsily
, perhaps with slow deliberate care.
b) she jams the rest of the flowers in the vase any old how and hurries
from the room, pushing through the crowd.
OK -- she leaves the flowers as they are (drops them?), walks slowly towards
*slaps his face?
*walks straight past him?
*Greets him calmly and walks on by?
*Walks up to another man standing next to the hero and kisses him passionately,
ignoring the hero?
See how the action can create a powerful impact, with no dialogue or
explanation or inner "oh my god its him -- the man whose secret
baby I had! Whatever shall I do? Hes come to steal my child and
my home and foreclose on my business!" <G>
Its hooked in the reader because they
can see theres a problem, a history, And that it matters.
(2): Opening lines
* Choose one of the following opening lines and jot down the questions
raised in your mind.
* List some other effects of these lines
a) "Allie McGuffey knew a yuppie bar was a lousy place to find a
hero, but she was desperate."
b) "There was a naked man pounding on Maggie Winthrop's back door"
c) "Sapphire Cove, Australia, was definitely the loveliest place
in the world for a honeymoon.
Pity about the bride."
d) "Promise!' The dying man grabbed her arm in a hard-fingered grip.
"Promise me, damn you, girl!"
e) "Out of money, out of luck, alone and frightened, the girl known
as Evening Star did the only thing she could think of to stay at the saloon's
She bet herself."
f) "Be sure he drinks the wine before he gets your clothes off."
listed at end)
(3) : Planting small intrigues
So let's play with some common actions to see how we can build in intrigue.
A woman arrives in town:
*who is she?
*how does she arrive?
*what's she carrying?
*what's she wearing?
* she has some other item with her --- what is it?
Compare notes with your neighbours. Which possibilities have the best
***** ©Copyright 2002 Anne Gracie.*****
of first lines:
a) - Jennifer Crusie Charlie All Night
b) - Suzanne Brockmann - Time Enough for Love
c) - Marion Lennox - Hijacked Honeymoon
d) Anne Gracie - An Honorable Thief
e) - Elizabeth Lowell - Only You
f) Madeleine Hunter - Lord of a Thousand Nights