Whether a story interests the reader has to do with a large number of factors, and it is impossible—not even advisable—to control them all. But what is clear is that, as a writer, you should not assume that the reader will be captivated by what you write just because you —who have the story in your head— find it exciting. Let’s say that you have to earn it, you have to build the narrative in a way in which at all times the reader can recreate it in his head and, at the same time, is eager to know what is going to happen next. Form and substance —don’t forget—must be united in literature. That is to say, no matter how deep the background is, if you do not present it in the appropriate way, the reader will not have access to that meaning.
Next, I’m going to give you some plot tricks so you can find a suitable mold for your ideas:
That the theme of your story, when applied to the plot, contains a paradox, a break, something that does not fit.
1. Part of a paradox
Assuming that it is good for you to know what your story is about (talking about love is not the same as talking about betrayal, nor talking about loneliness than absence, etc.), it is not enough to develop a theme throughout of the narrative. It is advisable that this theme, when applied to the argument, contains a paradox, a break, something that does not fit. To give a classic example: in Don Quixote we are not told so much about madness, but about sanity within madness and madness within sanity. That premise already contains a paradox
So this can serve as a trick in the very genesis of your story. When you consider what the theme you are talking about is, which must be able to be summarized in two or three abstract words, add something that is contradictory or paradoxical, because that is exactly what (when you invent the concrete facts that will point to that meaning)) will give interest to your story and hook the reader from the first line.
2. Start at the end
This is advice that Edgar Allan Poe gave in his book Philosophy of Composition, in which he said:
If there is one thing evident, it is that any plan worthy of the name must have been drawn up with a view to the outcome before the pen strikes the paper. Only by continually keeping in mind the idea of the outcome can we give a plan its indispensable appearance of logic and causality, ensuring that all incidents, and especially the general tone, tend to develop the established intention.
This is a bit exaggerated, because not in all stories it is necessary to know the ending from the first moment you start Ebook Writing Services, but it is something that can serve as a trick to give a plot interest from the beginning. If from the beginning you are introducing clues that point to the end, that is a way for the reader to want to know what is going to happen next.
Another variant of this would be given by the famous quote attributed to Anton Chekhov:
If at the beginning of a story it has been said that there is a nail in the wall, that nail must serve at the end for the protagonist to hang himself.
I would add that this nail, in order for it to be an indication and generate interest, should not go completely unnoticed at the beginning of the story, but it is good that it fulfills a different function than the one it will fulfill at the end. Without the reader being able to deduce that this nail will be where the protagonist hangs himself, it must acquire a certain degree of interest or a certain aura of mystery. For example, it may be where the protagonist hangs his coat every time he enters the house, instead of hanging it on the coat rack, in a certainly manic and ineffective way, because that causes his coats to systematically tear on the inside, which which in turn leads you to rant and stress, but not to change your habits.
3. Make your character striking
This is not something so necessary in the novel, but it is in the story. Being a short genre, there is not much room to catch the reader. You have to dazzle him in the first paragraph, and what better way to do it than through a striking character, with characteristics such that we have no choice but to want to know what his destiny is going to be. In fact, short story characters usually have a touch of caricature, something that does not have to happen with novel characters.
Be careful, this does not mean that your characters have to be tightrope walkers, bank robbers or adventurers. You can create a bland character, but then you’ll have to find a way to make it strikingly bland.
As an example, the protagonist of the story “The Baggage Inspector”, written by Eloy Tyson and which appears in his book Blinks, is a boring and bland customs inspector who is abandoned by his wife for someone more interesting. But at the same time that it is bland, he has a parrot that does not stop spouting profanities, he sets the absurd goal of saving a million pesetas or it is “sweet” for him to “plunge his hands into travelers’ suitcases, knead for a moment the tissues compressed in their niches with keys and straps, feeling in a suffocating second of excitement that he had the power to decide a future, his own and that of others, to find something illegal in the ping-pong ball of a suspicious sock or in the smoke of a stocking.
4. What is at stake for your protagonist?
When you devise a story, keep in mind that each situation you invent, each scene you narrate, must put your character in a position in which something big is at stake.
The protagonist of your story has to have something at stake at all times. You have to put him in dangerous situations, not necessarily in a physical sense, but at least on an emotional level. In the story that I mentioned in the previous paragraph, it may seem silly to us as readers that the protagonist becomes obsessed with saving a million pesetas little by little (and even more so today, since pesetas no longer exist; -)). But for him it is important; If he doesn’t get it he will fall apart. And once we, as readers, identify with it, it will be important to us too.
So, when you devise a story, keep in mind that every situation you invent, every scene you narrate, must put your character in a position in which something big is at stake. I’ll tell you more: in this situation, in addition, there must be several possible exits (at least two), and the reader cannot know in advance which one the protagonist will choose. This will keep him hooked throughout the entire narrative, since he feels anxiety about what could happen to the character with whom he identifies, and he also does not know how he is going to get out of that situation. He has no choice, then, but to continue reading.
5. Introduce crocodiles in your story
Well, they could be alligators or dromedaries too ;-). Now seriously, this is an expression that Angel Zapata coined in his book The Practice of Storytelling. Manual of style for narrators, in which he says:
The predictable must be avoided, because it reduces the visibility of any narrative. In daily life […] things, objects, go unnoticed very easily. They are there, but we don’t see them. We count on them, yes, and in return we pay them summary and dispensable attention.
I finish explaining it with an example. You see: imagine that in a while you go to the bedroom of your house to look for a clothes brush. You get to the bedroom, you open the closet, you take the brush… and now you head towards the coat rack in the hall, on which the coat that you intend to brush hangs.
In an action like this, routine and common: would you say that you have seen the bed in the bedroom? […] Well… well now imagine the same action with a slight variation: the moment you arrive at the bedroom looking for the toothbrush, there is a two-meter-long crocodile snoring peacefully in your bed.
[…] with the same heightened clarity with which you would see your bed if you found it occupied by a crocodile, the reader has to see exactly the same way each of the actions, settings, objects and characters that you make appear in your fiction texts. To do this, as I told you, the whole secret is to avoid the foreseeable. In making a crocodile snore in each of the episodes, paragraphs and sentences.
“Crocodiles”, then, would be all kinds of visual effects that illuminate (like powerful lamps) what is happening around them and that allow the reader to visualize the story and fill in the gaps with their own imagination.
An example of “crocodile” that comes to mind is at the beginning of the story “Visor” by Raymond Carver:
A man with no hands knocked on my door to sell me a photograph of my house. Except for the chrome hooks, he was an ordinary looking man and he was about fifty years old.
A photographer with hooks for hands… Wow… Would anyone be able to stop reading? These hooks, never better said, act as hooks for the reader, from which they will no longer be able to detach themselves until the story ends. And not even then (I for one am still trapped by them ;-)).
So I suggest that you infest your stories with crocodiles, because it is one of the most effective tricks of that magician that every good writer must be.
6. Get your character into trouble
This is a very obvious strategy, but not all apprentice memoir writer take it into account. No reader wants to read how a character gets out of bed, goes to the shower, gets dressed, makes coffee, leaves the house, waits for the bus… All that is not interesting. Because? Because the reader wants to see how the character has a hard time. Yes, that raw.
I’ll give you an example: if the protagonist of the story wins the lottery, the reader will protest: “Yes, man, what a coincidence… I can’t buy it.” However, if the protagonist drops a pot on his head while leaving his house, he is taken to the hospital and the ambulance has an accident on the way, and suddenly there is an earthquake, the reader will be delighted, waiting to see which is the next calamity that will befall the character. We don’t swallow the “good” coincidences, but the “bad” ones do.
And it’s not that the reader is a sadist who loves to see people suffer. It’s quite the opposite: as readers, we want to be shown how to get out of difficult situations successfully, perhaps because true happiness does not come from super cool things happening to us (like winning the lottery) but from being able to face difficulties. and take advantage of adversity: going through (emotionally speaking) accidents and earthquakes.
So, don’t hesitate, get your characters into a lot of trouble… as long as you then know how to get them out of it, that is.
7. Mix two stories
This is a great trick, and not too obvious. It comes from a slogan by the writer Ricardo Puglia:
In one of his notebooks, Chekhov recorded this anecdote: “A man, in Monte Carlo, goes to the casino, wins a million, comes home, commits suicide.” The classic form of the story is condensed in the core of that future and unwritten story.
Against the predictable and conventional (play-lose-suicide), the intrigue is presented as a paradox. The anecdote tends to separate the story of the game and the story of the suicide. This split is key to defining the double character of the story form.
Very interesting conclusions can be drawn from what Puglia says, but here I’m just interested in proposing a trick for when you get stuck with a story that doesn’t give you much play. When that happens to you, try to mix it with another plot line that contrasts and that, at the same time, can complement it. In other words, it tries to tell two stories in one. This will add interest and richness to your story, and will hook your readers without remission.
As your own example, I remember that many years ago I wanted to write a story about a man who, one day, woke up with the decision to leave his wife, with whom he had a harmonious and peaceful marriage for many years. He didn’t know where that decision had come from, and that worried him greatly. This was basically the plot, but something was wrong with me, it seemed too simple to me. Until it occurred to me to mix it with another idea I had (for another story, but which also seemed too dull), which had to do with a child who had always wanted to have a pedal stroller, and repeatedly asked the children for it. Three Wise Men, until one day the Three Wise Men brought him a bicycle (the boy was already too old for a pedal stroller), and the disappointment was huge. Apparently they were two stories that had nothing to do with each other, but by mixing them into a single story, they gave each other meaning. The boy and the man were the same, evidently. The story was titled (it couldn’t be any other way) “Desire.” Personally, I continue chasing—unsuccessfully—my pedal car, like the prophetic character in that story.
8. A bomb under the sofa
This trick comes from the brilliant Alfred Hitchcock, who defined suspense this way:
Imagine a man sitting on his favorite couch at home. Below is a bomb ready to explode. He ignores it, but the public knows it. This is suspense.
Your character may be so calm chatting with his best friend, but you, as the writer, may have introduced the necessary clues to let the reader know that a very dark cloud is hanging over him. He doesn’t know it yet, concentrated as he is on trying to unravel his conflict little by little, but the reader is already two steps away and feels like shouting at him: “Careful! Don’t you see that he’s deceiving you?”. This is one of the reader’s greatest pleasures, because he feels very clever: unraveling what not even the character seems to know. It is not always possible to do this in all stories, but it is one of the best hooks you can use to win over the reader.