Implying the Question

Getting people to keep reading is a tricky business. You can’t be there with them. You can’t tell them, “I know this part is slow, but wait till you see the payoff.” Instead, you have to imply there will be something important, not at the end, but just around the corner.

You’ve got to keep your reader wondering what is going to happen next. I believe in action scenes and reaction scenes. Your protagonist acts, it backfires horribly, and he spends the next scene trying to piece things back together. At the end of each of these scenes, I will always have a question that will be answered in the next scene. Hopefully, the reader gets the implied question and will keep reading to get the answer.

There are several ways to imply the question. There is foreshadowing, which most people reading this blog already know. You can’t be too heavy-handed with it, but foreshadowing can be a good way to increase suspense. The reader knows something is going to happen, they just don’t know when.

A book I recently read used the story timeline to create suspense. I already knew what the outcome of the situation would be, just not how it would happen. As such, I found myself dreading the moment.  The danger of messing too much with a chronological timeline is that you can lose your reader. If the reader loses track of where they are in time, then it doesn’t work. Even though the timeline isn’t chronological, it must still be logical. It has to make sense dramatically. There must be a reason you pieced it together that way.

Logical plotting itself can be a good tool for getting readers to keep going. If you know what your ending is, what has to happen to get there? If you know the beginning, what would probably happen after that? If all you know is a character and a setting, what would likely happen in that situation? Obviously, you need surprises, or the story isn’t going to make a lasting impression. Twists are part of the business. But a logical structure can help keep the reader inside the story.

Even if you don’t do anything else, you have to get the reader inside the story and keep them there. That means anything that distracts from the narrative illusion must be edited out. That metaphor that was so clever when you thought of it? It might not be your friend. When the reader starts seeing the wires, they aren’t fully engulfed in the story. I’m sure you have been reading in bed and next thing you knew, it was two hours past when you planned on stopping. That is your goal. You want to create that experience.

One of these days, take a look at your favorite story, the one that affected you most deeply. You would probably be shocked how few metaphors and how little purple prose it actually contains. As a writer, first you learn to overwrite, and then you get over it and just write. Rely on your characters and situations. If the reader relates to them, if they care about them, then they will be sucked in. If the readers don’t care, no amount of fancy language is going to make them care.

These are just a few of the techniques writers use to keep readers interested. There are many, many others. You can find them in the countless books on writing, or in the many serial publications on the subject. Do they work? I hope so. Otherwise, I  have wasted hundreds of dollars and hundreds of hours reading books and magazines about craft and theory.

Keep them in mind. Maybe they will help you. Maybe they won’t, but it is always worth a try.

Jack Campbell, Jr. is a dark fiction writer in Lawrence, KS. His writing has appeared in various venues including Twenty 3 Magazine, Danse Macabre, and Insomnia Press. He writes about reading, writing, and life on his blog at

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