Monday, June 11, 2007

Bookmark Inspiration

by Joyce DiPastena

While pondering what to write for my very first ANWA blog (my very first blog EVER), I glanced down at the bookmark I was using to mark The Great Snape Debate, my current read-in-progress. There sat a very small gray and white kitten wearing a yellow and pink sweater, his eyes wide with wonder as the bookmark asks: “And then what happened? And then what happened? And THEN what happened?”

That is the question that keeps a reader reading. Note how J.K. Rowling (speaking of Snape) hooks us with that question on the very first page of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Rowling: The Dursleys had everything they wanted, but they also had a secret, and their greatest fear was that somebody would discover it.

Reader: A secret? I love secrets! What kind of secret did they have? (If the page ended here, would you turn it to find out, “And then what happened?”)

Rowling: They didn’t think they could bear it if anyone found out about the Potters.

Reader: Oooo, who are the Potters? Why don’t they want anyone to know about the Potters? (And then what happened? Would you turn the page to find out?)

Rowling: Mrs. Potter was Mrs. Dursley’s sister, but they hadn’t met for several years... The Dursley’s shuddered to think what the neighbors would say if the Potters arrived in the street. The Dursleys knew that the Potters had a small son, too…This boy was another good reason for keeping the Potters away.

Reader: What’s up with the Potter boy? Why are the Dursleys so embarrassed about their own relatives? What’s going to happen when the Potters and their son show up? (And then what happened? Aww, let’s put the book down now and find out tomorrow…NOT!)

Can you see how that simple, but all-important question, keeps the reader turning the pages? Rowling keeps us reading by keeping that question alive in our minds all the way through six years at Hogwarts with Harry Potter. “And THEN what happens?” is what has us all on the edge of seats, waiting eagerly for Harry Potter, Year Seven to arrive on the shelves.

Now, pull out a piece of your own writing. Read it with fresh eyes. Does the question, “And then what happens?” weave its way invisibly but irresistibly, through your lines? If not, maybe you need a little more mystery. Don’t lay all your cards on the table from the very first page or chapter. Keep your readers guessing. Keep them asking…

“…and THEN what happens?”

6 comments:

  1. You are so right. I have even been known to read a book I didn't particularly care about to find out the end. Because the "hook" hooked me. I need to some redo!!

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  2. Terri, thanks for the explicit details. I read at least Rawlings' first book, but hadn't consciously realized quite what keeps kids reading them. I should have known. My kids have always tried to prompt me when I get bogged down in relating an incident with, "So then what happened?"

    I'm always happy to have people hit me on the head with ideas of what works and why. I guess I don't often analyze. I simply enjoy.

    Didn't somebody say somethng like, "The unanalyzed life is not worth living."?

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  3. Brava, Joyce! No one would guess this was your first blog ever if you hadn't told them.

    What a good reminder to all fiction writers that the question of what happens next is the thing that drives the reader to turn the pages.

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  4. Whatever happened to "the journey is the reward?"

    Or is that insufficiently occidental?

    It's good for readers to ask "what happens next," but isn't it even better for readers to say, "look what's happening now?"

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  5. I am a person who gets so caught up in wanting to know what happened next that I read ahead. It drives my husband crazy.

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  6. I, too, am guilty of reading ahead...but once in ahwile I come across an author makes every word count...and I find myself immersed in the depths of the story. I do enjoy a well written story!

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