Snare Your Readers with Open Loops

ScheherazadeMuch that is popular doesn’t pass muster with me. Music, books, food, travel, clothing: if it’s trendy, I’m probably not there. Not because I dislike being trendy; far from it. I love being the center of attention, being one of the cool kids, as much as (or more than) most. My tastes don’t seem to line up with popular. Probably plays a role in why I’m not.

What’s popular in all those categories is what sells. In each, there are lessons I can learn. We can eschew the package and order a la carte.

Over at the Writer’s Village, writer and coach John Yeoman hosted Anthony Metivier’s article 13 Reasons Why I Love James Patterson – And You Should Too. Metivier comes at Patterson from all angles. Number eight is a writing lesson I’ve been seeing without learning for ages.

Open a lot of loops.

Our marvelous brains store information we’re not even aware of. Chekhov’s gun, for instance. If we see it on the mantle in Act I, our brains are waiting for it to go off in Act III.

That’s a loop: we see something open-ended in a story, and whether we’re conscious of it or not, wait for it to be closed.

Consider the greatest compliment a writer can hear: “I just couldn’t put your book down.” (Or as one of my readers said, thisthingislikecrack! All in one word, yes.)

What keeps a reader glued to your story?

The need to know what comes next.

Not timeless prose.

Not fascinating true-to-life characters.

Not historical or scientific accuracy, a controversial stance, wit or charm.

What keeps a reader glued to your story is the psychological need to close loops.

This is not trickery. It is, rather, a fundament of good storytelling. It is the very theme of one of the most famous story collections of all times. That storyteller knew the saving grace of open loops.

I need to investigate this concept and learn methods that work. I’ll share what I discover so we can all use it.

Our lives are not on the line. If readers yawn and put our books down, no one dies.

It just feels like it.

4 thoughts on “Snare Your Readers with Open Loops

  1. It’s easy to visualize. As a coder, I know what happens when you open loops but don’t close them: things crash, pages don’t load, people cry.

    Every left parenthesis in your story tells the reader to expect a right parenthesis. I knew it, but had never envisioned it so clearly before.

  2. I could come up with many reasons why I can’t stand James Patterson, but I do agree with you on the loops. Especially with a series, some loops need to be left open so they can be resolved in a later book, but there is still the trick to make each individual novel in the series a complete story with it’s own set of opened and closed loops. I love the timeliness of this post!

  3. Confession time: I’ve not read a single word of Patterson. I should, just so I can say I have (same with Hemingway and Faulkner, I guess.)

    When we keep people reading by making them want to keep reading and then keeping the promises that kept them reading, everyone wins.

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