Tuesday, October 22, 2013

For the Writers: The Importance of Curiosity

There is a new writing how-to book out there, written by Jeff Vandermeer. Wonderbook is not your typical craft book, though. The sub-title is "The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction." It is an awesome collection of pictures, essays, and craft advice organized in such a way that you never know from page to page just what you're going to find.

The other night I finished the Introduction right before I turned off
the light to go to bed. I lay in the dark and actually felt excited to read the book. It holds the promise of something different and unique. I expect to learn wonderful things in the pages ahead of me.

Why is that? What is it about this book that catches my imagination, already, within the first ten pages. Is it just because it has pictures? Is it only because it's organized differently? Perhaps, but I think it's because I'm curious. I don't know what is going to happen, what I'm going to see, and I want to find out.

I realized, as I was was contemplating the giddy excitement I was feeling at the thought of reading a writing craft book, that we have to create that same curiosity in our novels. We have to pose the story question early, and make sure it's interesting, so that we create the need in the reader to find out what happens next.

Then we have to build that curiosity throughout the book, on the chapter and scene level so reader's minds are engaged and curious about what is coming next. Now I understand why Jack Bickham's book Scene and Structure is so helpful. He teaches how to structure a scene so that curiosity is maximized and then move that curiosity into the next chapter. (If I tried to explain it all, I would be here all day, so I'll just highly recommend the book.)

As long as the story moves, the reader's curiosity to what will happen next should compel them to continue reading. And, at the end, you make sure the story question is answered, thereby satiating the reader's curiosity.

Curiosity is important to characterization, as well. Why do we not like cliches in stories? Because we know what they will do, how they will act. There is no mystery which drives our need to know about the character. It's the unpredictable character - like Loki - who grabs our attention. Loki is a compelling villain because we're just not sure what he's going to do. He can act on the behalf of good, or he can just as easily act on his own behalf, or for evil.

It's very basic, and I "knew" this before, but I'd never thought of crafting an interesting story as engaging a reader's curiosity. It isn't some crazy list of things I have to do. It's asking "what if" or "and then what?" It's something real and human and...simple.

What do you think? 
How do you maximize curiosity within your stories?


  1. I have to push myself sometimes to get imaginative. Then I'm not sure if it's kooky imaginative or believable imaginative. Either way, I do my best to push the limits of enjoyment within the story.

    1. I know! It's a scary tight-rope we walk at times, huh? :)

  2. I love this post, Lara! The book sounds great, it seems like just the type of creating I like to do, but with more purpose. I think that initially, since I'm more of a pantser, I am asking myself these very questions as I go, "What could happen next?" and my very favorite, "What if?" I think that being curious about the story as I write helps imbue it with mystery for the reader. I'm not entirely sure if it words yet, but that's what I'm trying to do. :) Thanks for sharing this reference!


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