Progressive revelation keeps readers turning pages.
Or drives us nuts!
In chapter forty-five of The Art of War for Writers, we are encouraged to drop in hint and actions about the Lead character, about the plot to get us to ask why. The mystery is what drives us on to keep turning the page, to find answers.
I love mystery in a story. I love to collect the clues, connect the dots, to guess at the questions, but to actually write mystery into our stories…help! There is such a fuzzy border between hints that are blatant giveaways, or hints that are too obscure, and not everyone is going pick up on the same things.
Mystery is one of the many reason’s I love J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. The red herrings. The clues. Jill Williamson, author of Blood of Kings Trilogy, Replication, and The New Recruit, has a great article on how to add layers of mystery to your novel, and she uses Harry Potter as her example. Check it out if you get the chance.
Is there such a thing as too much mystery? I’ve read books where I was thrust into craziness and couldn’t figure out what was going. There were way too many unanswered questions thrown at me right away I couldn’t get a good grip on the story. In James Scott Bell’s example, readers didn’t find out until a hundred pages later. I don’t know, but that sounds like it would make my brain cramp. Too many questions can get distracting. If they do a good job of stringing us along, and we still want to know more, I don’t know if I could take the stress. Ha!
Some can pull off starting a book with too many questions. One book in particular, I am Ocilla by Diane M. Graham, is told in first person, present tense, and the main character had no memory of anything, but her name. So naturally when we start reading the book there are so many unanswered questions. My brain threatened to cramp. I wanted to put the book down, but I’m so glad I didn’t. As Ocilla learned more, we learned more, and the early bumps were smoothed out into an engaging, touching story.
Bell’s suggestion is for progressive revelation. “Reveal your plot incrementally.” Little by little. Enough to engage, enough to keep us turning the pages.
So what say you? Is there such a thing as too much mystery? Probably depends on what we like to read. 🙂 Do you have trouble adding layers of mystery to your novels? Did you find William’s article helpful? Do you know of other helpful advice? Please share!