He talked to us about the art of the cliffhangers at the ends of chapters and scenes, and how we can use a television technique to keep readers turning pages.
When he was growing up, he loved television. "I was probably the only fourth grader in Hopewell, Virginia with a subscription to TV guide."
TV when he was a kid wasn't like TV today. There was no on-demand, and you couldn't always record what you wanted to watch. Lamar never wanted to miss a moment of a show, and a few times, he got burned by leaving the TV during commercial breaks. The experience left him with anxiety.
"I realized that anxiety was being manufactured," he said.
Something enticing happened at a commercial break. In a half-hour show, the creators would generate 3 of these (and more for longer shows). He tries to use this sort of manipulation with his stories.
"This is how I try to keep people reading even if they're tired, even if they have something else to do."
Shows take longer to read than a TV show does to watch, so we're asking people for a lot.
1) The Ned: Blindside the Audience
In this technique, you lead the reader in a certain direction. They think they know what's going to happen. In GAME OF THRONES, for example, an unexpected death occurs in the ninth episode. In MOCKINGJAY, Prim dies unexpectedly when a brace of parachutes full of explosives detonate.
"Having that situation go down the way it did, there was no telling what would come next. But there's no way in the world you're not going to hang in there and find out what happens next."
Use The Ned in pivotal scenes. If you want to do this in a three-act structure, use it around inciting incidents or going into Act II.
2) The Winchester: Making a Vow or Accepting a Mission
In Supernatural, Sam and Dean lose their mother. Their father trains them to lose the same. Sam wants a regular life, but Dean becomes a hunter. In the season premier, their father is missing. Sam's girlfriend was killed in the same way his mother was. So they make a vow to hunt the demon down and find their missing father.
A novel called RED RISING by Pierce Brown uses a similar technique. It's set on Mars. The society is broken into classes. The ruling class punishes the hero by killing his wife. He leaves home with terrorists.
When you accept a vow, you're implying or stating there is a difficult, possibly insurmountable goal. If you use this, do it early in the book, because it sets the tone for the entire novel.
3) The Clark - Tell a Secret
This technique delivers information to a pivotal character. The effects of this secret keep people hooked. Laini Taylor's DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE uses this when Akiva kills Karou's family. This relationship and this moment drive two more books. So, it's a technique to use later in the manuscript because it pays off threads you laid earlier.
His approach to story structure and its emotional influence was really smart and helpful. And anything that lets you you justify delicious television viewing as work is OK by me.
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