Teasing the reader

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Teasing the reader

Postby Mira » 04 Jun 2011, 16:26

So, I've never written about how to write things, but I was thinking about this topic lately. I thought I'd share my thoughts and then see if people agree.

I don't hear this discussed much, but I think it's an essential part of any writing: teasing your reader.

I think really good writers are teases. They give some information, just enough to whet your curiousity and then keep you guessing until the end. And then, if they are really diabolical, they'll come up with another tease for the sequel.

The need to find out what is going to happen, or what the narrator means, or who was the culprit, it's all a need the author has created in the reader - a need to find out.

The skilled part of the tease, though, is there needs to be foreshadowing. There have to be hints dropped into the narrative. The story has to earn its plot twists. You can't just have a plot turn that comes out of the blue - the reader will feel cheated. They want to feel surprised, but they also want to feel like the story was FAIR - they had the chance to figure it all out, but the author was too clever for them. That's delightful.

I think we have to be careful not to shock the reader too much, otherwise, I think they'll feel angry and cheated and throw the book down. Unless it is set up very carefully and skillfully, with subtle foreshadowing, it doesn't work well, at least for me.

The really good writers - they are teases to the point of almost being heartless. I want to kill them, but I love every minute of it.

So, what do you think? Does this ring a bell for anyone? Do you tease your readers when you write?
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Re: Teasing the reader

Postby Mira » 04 Jun 2011, 16:37

And speaking of good teases, when is your next book coming out, Nathan??? I can't wait until 2012.

Arrrgggghhh.
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Re: Teasing the reader

Postby polymath » 04 Jun 2011, 20:56

I feel like the term tease has negative associations which might not sit well with readers. Mom says stop teasing your sibling. Just teasing the bully says after hurting feelings or worse. Strip teasers promise carnal and intimate revelations but won't deliver on the promises. I'm partial to terms like entice, persuade, seduce. Rhetoric is the art of persuasion. Teasing to me feels closer to coercion.
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Re: Teasing the reader

Postby cheekychook » 05 Jun 2011, 08:48

This is actually something I deal with a lot with my critique group and beta readers. I can't tell you how often I have had members walk into my writing group and slam my chapter on the table then yell "You're such a tease! How could you not send the next chapter?" The same holds true for beta readers who will email me a single word response "TEASE!" My reply is always the same, "I'm not a tease, teases don't put out and you know I eventually will." Ha. :) That's the key, in my opinion, to reader satisfaction. More than teasing (though that's what it may feel like to them) you need to tempt them, to lure them into wanting more---bring them to the brink, then let them twist in the wind a bit while they wait to see what happens---then you need to follow through, or else you are JUST a tease (and that's not a good thing).

Moral of the story: It's better to be a temptress than a tease.
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Re: Teasing the reader

Postby maybegenius » 05 Jun 2011, 18:44

I think that's just good storytelling, for sure. Getting your reader invested and keeping them hooked throughout the entire work is an admirable goal :) Of course, there's a balance to it. You have to give enough information to keep them going, but not so much that they feel condescended to (Look at this character putting on a PURPLE JACKET. It's so weird that they're wearing a PURPLE JACKET. A PURPLE JACKET is an unusual fashion choice for them.). Also, you always have to remember that readers are perceptive, but not psychic. They don't need all the information, but they need enough to sink their teeth into.

I knoooooow Twilight gets picked on all the time, and that's not what I'm trying to do here, but it is a good example in the way an author intended to tease and foreshadow, but didn't quite get it. She made Bella way, way, way too perceptive. Bella noticed things about other characters that no person who didn't already know their secret would guess. Example: early in the first novel, she makes an observation about how it seemed like Edward had overheard a conversation he had no way of hearing after he makes a casual comment. It would have made more sense for her to overlook the comment, or find it funny and coincidental that he'd made a similar comment as her friend. Instead, it seems like she already suspects he can read minds. Why would she think that? At that point in the narrative, she thought he was a normal kid. Another example: the dream she has in the first book in which Jacob turns into a wolf. Why? Why would her unconscious mind dream up that image? She's not psychic. Those are some instances of forcing a tease. They have to be more subtle than that.

On the other hand, you can't leave your reader floundering and confused by certain events without giving them some ground to stand on. They'll end up frustrated. So, we have to remember that 1) readers aren't stupid, but 2) they also don't know everything we know.

And yes, I LOVE ending my chapters on some kind of tense high note that makes my critique partner go WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ME, I NEED YOUR NEXT CHAPTER RIGHT NOW.
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Re: Teasing the reader

Postby Nathan Bransford » 05 Jun 2011, 20:04

Mira wrote:And speaking of good teases, when is your next book coming out, Nathan??? I can't wait until 2012.

Arrrgggghhh.


Ha - I think March 2012 - about nine months from now.

I think there's an important distinction here between leaving threads dangling and creating mysteries on the one hand, and outright teasing on the other hand. Because I agree this is an important part of writing, but I think it's actually much more common for aspiring authors to lean too heavily on the tease rather than giving the reader the information they need to know. I love cheekychook's line about trying to be a temptress rather than a tease.

When writing and plotting, it's great if there are some mysteries, big and small. But it can really be overdone, especially when your characters know things the reader doesn't. There comes a point when the writer is just holding out on the reader rather than building a credible mystery.

The way to build a good tease is to prompt a good question of the Who/What/When/Where/Why/How variety. Who did it? What happened? When are they going to get together? A tease is basically the gap where a character wants something and we're waiting to see if they're going to get it.

So the start of the tease is showing your character wanting something, whether it's an object, person, knowledge, anything. Then put obstacles in their way that deprive them of getting them what they want. That creates the questions for the reader: Are they going to get what they want? And how are they going to get it?
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Re: Teasing the reader

Postby Chantelle.S. » 06 Jun 2011, 13:16

Mira wrote:The really good writers - they are teases to the point of almost being heartless. I want to kill them, but I love every minute of it.

So, what do you think? Does this ring a bell for anyone? Do you tease your readers when you write?


:lol:
I don't see it as teasing. I just see it as ending the chapter/book off on a note that promises there will be some serious plot developments in the next section. Kind of like 'all your questions will be answered!!!!!' And I do that at the end of every chapter because it's my bribe to keep my readers waiting and coming back to read more :twisted: -edit- I always deliver the goods. I thought I'd just add that in.

But the term readers use for it is 'cliffhangers', like I'm actually leaving them teetering on the edge of some great reveal. I've had a lot of people short of 'scream' at me for doing that, but I never was quite sure whether their screams were one of excited anticipation or impatient rage. I've had people dub me an 'evil author', too. That title worries me a bit because I don't know if that's a positive or a negative thing?

Either way it keeps the readers coming back for more, which makes me a very very very :D writer.
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Re: Teasing the reader

Postby Fenris » 07 Jun 2011, 10:22

I try not to tease, at least not as it's been defined in this thread. However, I dislike giving the reader everything they need or want to know all at once, as well. For one, that would create a multi-page infodump, but more importantly they would have no reason to read on.

I think it's more important to withhold the links, the pieces of the puzzle that connect the others. I give the readers chunks of the puzzle that lack the crucial pieces and let them fill in the blanks I don't eventually fill. For example, my last blog post (link in the signature) focused on how backstory can be effective even when it's only hinted at rather than explicitly stated. What both issues have in common is that they make the reader think, and that's always a good thing (provided they don't just end up confused).

It's like a recipe. You give the readers the ingredients and see if they can reach the correct conclusion without your help. If they can't, that's what the resolution/sequel is for: for the author to step in and show them the answer while introducing a new question. Heck, if you can establish a sizable fanbase, end the series on a cliffhanger and let Wild Mass Guessing begin (remember the end of Inception? The Prestige? Stuff like that).
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Re: Teasing the reader

Postby cheekychook » 07 Jun 2011, 11:55

I think there is also a big distinction/range in the amount of "teasing" done in different genres. In the case of story lines where you have to figure out the complexities of what's going on (like a mystery, for example) there's going to be a lot of very different kind of "teasing", piecing together info, etc than in, say, a love story. Sure there will always be backstory, little tidbits that are important to the plot that are parceled out over time, but that's not always the same. Leaving readers interested and dying to know more is what spans all genres---otherwise no matter what type of book it is the reader will close it.
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Re: Teasing the reader

Postby Mira » 07 Jun 2011, 20:08

"So, we have to remember that 1) readers aren't stupid, but 2) they also don't know everything we know".

Maybegenuis, well said.

I really really appreciate people's responses. This was really interesting to me to think about and see what other people had to say.

What's interesting to me is how people define tease. People definitely took meaning from this that I hadn't intended, which is a good lesson for me!

I think Cheekychooks word "temptress" works really well, too, Nathan. But I guess I thought of the word "tease" because it has a playful element to it, that works for me. There's a dance that goes on between a good writer and a reader, where the writer holds the answers just out of reach, feeding alittle bit, and then dancing away again. But I guess temptress or temptor works just as well. :)

Part of what I meant to say - but didn't - is the author HAS to deliver. If they don't ultimately deliver, the reader feels betrayed. The T.V. show LOST is a good example of that. Many people felt set up and let down because all the "teases" hadn't come together in a well-crafted ending. LIke Fenris said, the recipe has to use all the ingredients, or people feel mislead and cheated.

And I agree with you, Nathan, that the author can't play games with the reader. It needs to be embedded in the story - not just a mechanism to keep people reading - because they can tell.

But the author can hold out for a long time, as long as little mysteries are solved in the meantime. Too much "not knowing" and the reader starts to feel frustrated. But you can hold out on the big ones for a very long time - J.K. Rowling brought up information that wasn't resolved until the last chapter of the last book. And that's good storytelling.

Chantelle - imho, I think a good writer IS alittle bit evil. But evil in a good way. :D
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