There’s still so much more to share from CraftFest. Today I’m combining two workshops: How to Keep the Reader Turning Pages, given by Peter James, and Research and the Willing Suspension of Disbelief, given by W. Michael Gear. Both gave pointers for making sure the reader stays in the story and keeps reading.
James stressed that characters are the most important aspect of our stories, and we need to engage the reader from the beginning. To do that, it’s important to create emotional connections for the reader, and it won’t come through if you don’t know your character. He told us to give all characters something or someone to love—no character should be all bad.
He reiterated the need for ruthless editing, making sure everything drives the narrative forward, and to make sure to engage all the senses.
Another point James made is that “a likely impossibility is better than an unlikely possibility.” He also told us to be original—to find new ways to describe things. And to remember that less is more.
Gear began by describing a novel as Character, Plot and Setting. All require that you do research, and, as he pointed out, if you’re lazy with your research, you’re not likely to succeed. As an archaeologist, he’s used to doing a lot of research. James also stressed doing one’s homework. He said he goes out on a ride along with his local police department once a week. Readers want to be in “safe” hands—they want to trust the author to tell them the truth—or as close as it can get in fiction.
Gear spoke of his pre-author days, when he was reading a western novel about a cattle drive, which he was finding interesting—until the end, when the cattle arrived at their destination and it was calving season. This in and of itself is unlikely, but the death knell for the book for Gear was that throughout, the author had been describing this herd of cattle as being made up of steers. (If you’re wondering why this is an issue, check here.
Gear also warned that research can be a trap. It’s too easy to get sucked into the research so you forget to write. He stressed that you can’t do too much research, but you can put too much into the book. Research has to be inserted gracefully. It’s an art.
He asked us what percentage of our readers we’d be willing to lose due to bad research. But he also pointed out that it’s important to balance the “real” with what readers will be willing to accept. When readers pick up a book, they’re willing to suspend disbelief—to an extent.
Causes Terry Odell Supports
Pro Literacy Worldwide, The Nature Conservancy, The Adult Literacy League, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society