Monday, October 29, 2012

Got Thirst?

By Harry Kraus

Jogging down a dusty road under the African equatorial sun, I started thinking about thirst, one of the most powerful of human urges. Once dehydration becomes pronounced, the brain sends out a constant message that takes priority over everything else: DRINK! Hmmm. Perhaps thirst can teach me something about making readers desire to turn pages. OK,maybe it was the heat, or my own dehydration, but I began to imagine my readers thirsting, and me holding out the promise of water.

Why should my readers thirst to turn pages? How can I intensify their thirst?

Turn up the heat. When I run in the middle of the day, the noonday
sun makes me sweat, increasing my dehydration and thus, my thirst.
When I write, I strive to
increase the stakes. Make the unfortunate and unexpected turn of
events matter. As you write, ask yourself “Why does this matter”? OK,
your protagonist lost his car keys, so what? Make it matter: His wife
is in labor and there is no other transportation.

Feed them salt. The messages sent out to prod us to drink are
dependent on the concentration of sodium in the blood. When we give
our readers salt, their thirst to turn pages will increase. How? Make
them care about your protagonist. While your main character needs to
be flawed, and may have some characteristics that are disagreeable, he
or she needs to have enough strength to be able to recognize and face
their own character flaws. This makes readers identify with them and
that emotional bond will help build empathy when you are turning up
the heat.

Hide the water. Nothing creates thirst more than a question or
mystery that goes unanswered. Hint that water is around the corner,
but when the reader gets there, have the jug be empty or the water be

Give wrong directions to the water. When writing a mystery, it is
important to make the outcome a surprise. It needs to make sense
(subtle clues along the way that the reader can look back on and
realize that the outcome is reasonable), but it needs to be an
unexpected outcome. This is done by planting misdirection along the

Delay the water source. If I’m thirsty by the time I get back to my 
home in Kijabe, Kenya and I find out that there is a problem with ourwater source (and therefore the tap in my kitchen is dry or my water
is brown!), my thirst is only accentuated. Find something that your reader wants to know (outcome of a conflict, the resolution of a problem etc) and delay the resolution. Or, if you solve one problem,
create two more in the process!

In the end, give them what they want! The resolution of theprotagonist’s conflict should be as refreshing and satisfying to yourreaders as a cold drink after a long run! I thought I’d never get here. I went the wrong way trying to find the stream! I couldn’t find the water. I shouldn’t have eaten those potato chips!

Make your readers thirsty. Then give them a cool reward. Then certainly they will come back asking for more.
Harry Kraus, M.D. is a board-certified surgeon, medical missionary to East Africa, and accomplished writer of both non-fiction and fiction. Medical realism and gripping plotlines distinguish his writing, as he gets most of his ideas with a scalpel in hand. His books include;  A Heartbeat Away, Perfect, and The Six-Liter Club. Dr. Kraus resides in Kenya with his wife Kris and the youngest of his three sons. His most recent book release is 
Domesticated Jesus.
His website
His blog (love the title)

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