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How can you tell if a book has a strong story momentum?
There's a simple test. If you open to page one and you can't put it down, then the story most likely has momentum.
I recently read several young adult titles that kept me reading as fast as I could until the final page. Look at three titles which grabbed me and see if you agree the ideas have momentum.
My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga
Two teens meet on a suicide partner website and agree to help each other die.
Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider
A boy goes to a school for teens with tuberculosis and falls in love.
Holding up the Universe by Jennifer Niven
America's formerly fattest teen girl who was removed from her house with a crane meets a boy who can't remember faces.
What do you think? Do these ideas intrigue you? All I gave you was the kernel idea behind these books. Does it make you want to read them?
What gives these ideas momentum?
Using these three titles as examples, I will suggest five things that give stories their power.
You can write stories with momentum if you...
1. Elicit BIG emotion.
All three books ideas affected my emotions. After reading the back blurbs, I felt several things. Appalled. Afraid. Saddened. Hopeful things would work out.
I'm not saying we writers must horrify readers when they merely glance at our books. What I am saying is we must amplify our ideas so readers want to read to find out what happens.
The goal is to get the reader to feel things like...
Disgust at the situation
Fear of a character
Sadness the character must face what's next
A desire to see a moral outcome
Anxiety things won't work out in a character's favor
Love for the characters
My Heart and Other Black Holes is an excellent example of a novel with momentum because it takes the entire book to find out what will happen to the two teens. Therefore, writers hear the advice that if the stakes in a book aren't death, then it'll be difficult to keep a reader's attention.
2. Get your reader asking questions before they crack open the book.
The most motivating factor for readers is curiosity. If your reader is curious, they'll keep reading. I'm talking about big-scale curiosity. Big questions need to swirl in the reader's mind for them to keep reading. Questions such as...
How will this turn out?
What if they don't make it?
Could this happen?
Who will die?
Why does a character act a certain way?
3. Force characters to be in a terrible situation.
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is a great example of characters placed in a horrific situation so readers couldn't help keep reading to find out what happens. The more anguish you heap onto the main character, the better. Unless they are pressed so hard between searing hot irons, it's not as interesting to read. Take the character, Katniss, from Hunger Games. She had no way to turn that wouldn't cause extreme pain. To volunteer as tribute for District Eleven meant doing the unthinkable and going to an arena of twenty-four kids where only one would be victorious. However, the alternative was watching her little sister, whom she lived to protect, go through the gruesome battle herself.
But how can you come up with a horrible situation for your characters? This is where you take your story idea and brainstorm the most extreme outcomes and select the worst. Yes, you must make it believable, but terrible things happen every day. Just watch the news.
4. Send your character to a place or on a journey where the reader will want to go.
Have you ever bought a book because the people on the front cover were at the beach? I'm guilty of doing that! Sometimes I want to get away so badly but must stay put, so I read fiction that takes place anywhere else than where I'm at. Journeys don't always have to involve a character who travels to a new location. Journeys can include...
falling in love
solving a problem
finding a best friend
attending parties or other social gatherings
getting a new pet
These journeys can whisk the reader out of their own life. Keep that in mind as you make choices for your own writing. Ask yourself this question. If I could go anywhere in the world and there were no physical limitations to what I could do, what would it be? In answering this you may discover a piece of your next novel.
5. Write voice so readers turn pages to spend time with characters.
Have you figured out how to distinguish character voices? This is a challenging skill. I avoid sprinkling in accents because characters are from different parts of the country. I don't want my interpretation of characters to seem inauthentic. There has to be a way to create characters with engaging voices without having to show they're out-of-towners.
Consider trying something different the next time you work on the varied voices in your novel.
Make a character an expert in an uncommon field. If a character is an expert that can change the vocabulary they use in regular conversation. Consider the difference between a welder and a beauty consultant. What metaphors would each use? Would they listen differently? How often would they give advice? Chances are their voices would be different.
Give a character a strange obsession. Again, the language someone would use if they were addicted to eating slugs would differ from the language of someone who was addicted to scrubbing the floor.
Give a character a past that affected the way they see the world. If you lived a sheltered life you'd speak differently from someone who had to fight from day one.
There are many ways to design a unique character voice. If you can really figure out who your characters are and what makes them tick, you'll know how they should sound on the page.
I gave you five tips to make sure your story has momentum.
Elicit BIG emotion.
Get your reader asking questions before they crack open the book.
Force characters to be in a terrible situation.
Send your character to a place or on a journey where the reader will want to go.
Write voice so readers turn pages to spend time with characters.
The bottom line is you want to keep your readers turning pages.
You want the reader thinking things like...
She has to get back home.
They have to be together.
They need to kill that guy.
That’s messed up.
If you're able to write a story with some momentum, you'll have multitudes of happy readers, including me.
Happy writing, my friend! If you liked my post feel free to share. Let's connect on social media, too.