The One Thing Your Novel Absolutely Must Do

Susan DeFcraft, fiction, Writing resourcesLeave a Comment

girl under the covers looking at a box with a light coming out of it

Start in the middle.

Get all the important characters on the page in the first chapter.

Reveal what the protagonist wants.

Reveal the protagonist’s vulnerabilities.

Establish what’s at stake.

There are a whole lot of books on the craft of fiction out there, and it can feel like every one of them makes the case for one thing your book must do if it is going succeed. And for the most part, their recommendations are good.

But as far as I’m concerned, the novel is novel, in that it’s constantly being reinvented, which means precepts like those above can go right out the window if it serves the story.

There’s only one thing that any novel must do if it’s going to succeed, and that’s arouse the reader’s curiosity.

According to the emerging body of neuroscience associated with fiction, as soon as a reader’s curiosity is aroused, dopamine is released into their bloodstream, signaling that important information is on the way. The reader starts making predictions about what happens next, whether they’re aware of it or not, and this in turn keeps them turning the pages to find out.

And that, to me, is the foundation upon which every other ambition for a novel is built. Because it doesn’t matter how convincing your characters or setting, how well-wrought their concerns, or how high the stakes in your story—if the reader stops turning the pages, it’s game over.

But what exactly arouses curiosity? And how does curiosity work in different parts of a novel?

Read the rest of my post this month for Jane Friedman here!

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