When we approach a rollercoaster ride there is little doubt that we expect to have a thrill. We see a structure that is big and tall with loops and curves.
The rails are at impossible angles to navigate and the little car racing to the top of a drop is certainly coming right off with us in it.
It’s all there – the terror, the excitement and the risk. The decision to accept the challenge is so palpable we feel it in every step walking up to the gate to wait for the next car.
The entire experience is loaded with fear and the expectation.
That’s exactly what a writer has to give readers in the very beginning of a story. Show them they are in for a ride, show them if they keep reading there is a lot to uncover and, in the end, they will feel a sense of satisfaction for taking the risk, for turning the pages.
It doesn’t have to be a dangerous journey. It doesn’t have to be filled with fear. But who would get on a ride that had no ups and downs, no twists and turns, never sped up your heart rate and promised not a single “woohoo”?
Stories need a thrill, a hook, worthy of making a commitment, reading all the way to the end. It’s buying the ticket and getting in the car, locking down the bar and getting ready for the short, steady crawl up the big loop and the screaming free fall that follows.
Readers can’t see the loops and curves ahead. They can’t see the impossible turns and dips. But they can feel a well set up story that promises all of that and more – a payoff in the end. These openings tantalize:
In The Witches by Roald Dahl, we are immediately pitched something thrilling:
In fairy-tales, witches always wear silly black hats and black coats, and they ride on broomsticks. But this is not a fairy-tale. This is about REAL WITCHES.
George Orwell in 1984 starts out by asking us to step into a very different world:
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
And you know you will be in for a bumpy ride in Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides from the get go:
I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960;and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.
The lure of an amusement park is irresistible. Anticipation is rife starting with the mere viewing of those huge structures to boarding them and giving up all will-power. We are turning over our bodies to a mechanical object that literally risks our lives.
And we do it with glee.
A good story can have the same effect. A few sentences or paragraphs can create the same eagerness, the same hopefulness in our readers, pulling them toward an experience that will be altering in some untold way. Readers want to “give in” to a story, eyes open wide and heart ready to thump.
And that’s the trick. Can we make up a story that allows readers to surrender in the same way that crazy rollercoaster makes us surrender? Arms up, bodies in an uncertain pact with gravity and our futures in the hands of unforeseen mechanisms we cannot control.
Can we write a rollercoaster of a story?
It could be a thrilling ride into science fiction, fantasy, romance or mystery. It could be a memoir that tears apart our emotions, touches our very core and moves us to reach out in ways we would never have before. It could be a story that simply takes us out of where we live, physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually.
Whatever we write let it be an invitation for readers to hop on and let go. Whether they laugh or cry, get angry, sad or fall in love, we at least owe them a damn good ride.
Christina for PenPaperWrite
Register for the next 60 Scenes Writing Method Workshop on September 22nd in Atlanta at www.60scenes.com
Learn how to form your story into a rollercoaster: Storyboarding, scene development, the three-part dramatic structure, The Outer and Inner Journey and much more all in one day.
This is the last workshop in 2018 – class size is limited to 15. Sign up now to reserve your spot- www.60scenes.com