At last count, there were more biographies of Abraham Lincoln than there are molecules in the universe. This only seems like hyperbole until you go into a bookstore and see that, in fact, there are at least several gazillion of them. Now, fascinating historical figure that he is, why do we need so many books on the man? It’s not like each and every one of them contains unheard of revelations unless you count made up bull-crap.
But the upshot of writing non-fiction is you rarely have to draw the reader in- if someone wants to know about Abraham Lincoln, well, there you go. With fiction, you have to get the reader to want to know about it in the first place. You have to get them to ask the question in the first place, answer it, rinse and repeat.
Over to the right, there is a bookmark of the cover art from Fireside’s second issue. The question which my cell phone camera refuses to do justice to-what next– are the fundamental question of fiction (at least, to me).
From the outset- indeed, even sooner, the blurb, the ‘elevator pitch’- the reader has to be hooked, at least to some extent. There is a balance to be struck- they don’t have to be thrown headlong into action, or lead by the hand, but there needs to be incentive to turn the page.
I’ve written nearly exclusively short stories for the better part of a year, and am working on two long-form projects right now. When I started writing shorts, it was mostly to train myself to be more concise- I tend to get bogged down in details and technical descriptions- and it worked all too well. I’m writing much longer works that will clock in at between 70 and 100k words, and I have to remind myself I can spare a few words I would cut in shorter work.
But it did vastly improve me in one area- and that is focusing on that question. Where in a short story collection (particularly this one), there are myriads of opportunities for cliffhangers and suspense, while teasing the reader because they have to read the next story, which might not actually resolve the last, or does so only partially. I find it much easier to apply that now, and keep the story progressing swiftly and making it much more engaging.
It’s a simple question, really, one we ask all the time in a wide variety of situations, and really it’s why we read and/or write. Ask it, answer it, make your reader care what happens next in the story, to each character, and you’re well on your way to a good book.