June 5, 2015

Writing Sticks

By Molly O'Keefe

The other day I was walking my dog and a woman rode past me on a bicycle with a milk crate strapped to the back. In the milk crate, there was a whole bunch of sticks. Behind the bike, there was a beautiful yellow lab, tearing after her with a stick in its mouth. Whenever the dog would get distracted by some delicious smell in the bushes or some dead thing on the beach, the bike rider would reach back and throw another stick and the dog would once again be tearing after her.

It was brilliant.

And I realized how that’s often - exactly - like writing. I’m on the bike, the reader is chasing after me. And the sticks are questions. Story questions. And it’s fun. We’re running full-speed, wind in our hair – but it only works as long as I deal with those story questions at the right time. If I wait too long to answer one of them, the reader will get bored and put the book down. If I throw them too fast, the reader will get confused pick up a different book.

I also need the right sticks.  

Character is my best stick. Fully realized, human characters are going to keep those pages turning. Characters who behave like real people, who are flawed and unpredictable, who have the ability to be both kind and horrible are going to keep a reader intrigued.

Secrets and an emotionally charged back-story are easy sticks – effective but only for a little while. Hold onto them too long and they lose their impact.

Big plot questions will always engage your reader, but it’s not as easy you think.  Whatever your plot demands your characters have to deliver. So if your mousy kindergarten teacher has to save the world from the zombie apocalypse, you need to make that believable or the plot isn’t interesting.

I write romance and I've realized in recent years, with specific books that sexual chemistry is a reliable stick.  Page after page of sexual content however, isn't the goal.  Readers want the push/pull dynamic the attraction and the rejection. 

What about you? What are the most effective sticks in your milk crate?  As a reader, what questions keep you turning the pages to find the answer? 

Molly O'Keefe is an award-winning author of over 30 romance novels. She lives in Toronto, Canada with her family and the largest heap of dirty laundry in North America. Molly’s Amazon author page links to all of her available books. Molly is happy to be part of Brenda Novak’s SWEET TALK collection for raising money for diabetes research.

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