Sunday, January 30, 2011

Tease Me, Tease Me

I'm reading a book. Which, in and of itself, is not worth blogging about. It has over 600 pages and the usual teaser blurb on the back cover, telling me some of the interesting things that are going to happen in it, so as to convince me to buy it. I was going to buy it anyway, because I had picked up a later book by the same author and liked it, so had decided to go and seek out his earlier books, featuring the same character. I still read the blurb, though, just to see what it was going to be about.

Now, I haven't told you what the book is or who the author is, and for good reason. Because if I had, I'd be about to spoil it for you, in the same way that that stupid blurb spoiled it for me. One of the things it told me was that the protagonist's "former partner" turned up murdered, and asked "Why she was trying to contact him when she was killed."

When I began reading,I wondered when they were going to mention this former partner. Then, not far into the book, he was transferred and his "current" partner from the beginning of the book became his former partner. A character who was a significant presence in the story. And then I realised she was going to be the one murdered. Already, I was annoyed. I didn't want to know she was going to die.

But then, she didn't. Well, not for ages, anyway. So, when she discovered something interesting and was trying, unsuccessfully, to get hold of our hero, I realised she was about to be murdered. Again, annoying. Total loss of any suspense which I imagine the author, when he was writing this twist, felt pretty good about. None. Dead. I knew she wouldn't get hold of him and I knew she was going to be killed.

Which, of course, she was. On page 334. Over halfway through the book! Now, I'm all for giving me details of what the setup of a story is, but don't tell me things that are going to happen well into the story. Let me read it!

This doesn't actually win the "too much information" award, though, of books I have read lately. One, which I actually enjoyed very much and am looking forward to the sequel, due out this Spring, told me something major about a character which was revealed as early as ... the final chapter of the book. And it wasn't in the blurb, it was a one line teaser on the front cover!

My point is this. As an aspiring author, I think a lot about story structure, character etc., not only when I'm reading, but also when I'm watching TV and film. I tend to see things coming. I read story cues very well - such that I annoy people I watch things with by telling them what's going to happen. (Well, less so than I used to, since my wife keeps telling me to stop it. :) )

What I love, therefore, is story twists that I don't predict. I absolutely love it when I don't see something coming, or when I don't entirely understand what's happening. I loved LOST, for exactly that reason.

So, I particularly hate it when I know more about a story than I should. When I absolutely know something that is going to happen. It ruins it!

It's long been said that, often, the trailers for films contain all the best bits, which inevitably makes the film a disappointment. And this, I think is a symptom of one thing: Marketing.

Don't get me wrong, I am all for marketing. I want, when I finish my book and, all being well, have it published, to sell lots of books and the more marketing I can get for it, the better. However, there is a line to be struck between teasing a reader with enough information to get them interested and throwing so much of the story at them that their ultimate enjoyment of the book is negatively affected.

Even when people ask me about my own book, I only tell them the set up that occurs in the beginning of the book. My usual answer is: "It's an urban fantasy / comedy about a hermit who discovers his living room carpet is the deciding factor in a bet between God and Satan. Then the carpet is stolen and he has to get it back to save his own life."

Most people look at me very strangely at this point. Which is fine. I didn't set out to write the kind of book that people would respond to with, "Oh, like (Insert name of famous book / film here)." But the point is, there is much more I COULD tell them, to interest them, but I don't want to. It would spoil the story.

A friend, who recently read what I've written to date (just over 75,000 words) gave me a great compliment. She said that the twists and turns made it difficult to be sure who were the goodies and who were the baddies. I was delighted with that. It's exactly what I wanted.

Good stories have to have a bit of mystery. You have to not know what's going to happen, to make you want to keep reading in order to find out. The same applies to films. And I'm not sure that Marketing people understand this.

Tease me, by all means. Make me interested. But don't give me everything on a plate before I've even started on the journey.

I don't want to know.

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