Thursday, October 18, 2012

Taunt or Torture?

What makes a story unforgettable...addictive?

I drive an evil little car. While it doesn't actually "talk," it has a way of taunting you. "Drive me just a little faster…ease down the gas pedal…five more miles per hour won't hurt. And you listen, obey, and constantly watch for "light bars" on cars parked in the distance. Then it happens again…come on, quit teasing…punch it. Just for a second…feel the rush. And like the mindless puppet you've become behind the wheel of a car that will indeed go 160 mph in the blink of an eye, you let your weighted foot drop closer to the floor board…and soar.

No one believed me when I first expressed this sensation Bleu, my bad little Mini Cooper, created, until I let a couple of people drive it. My daughter felt it immediately…"It wants more." Oh yeah. Then I let my colleague, author Jeremy Broadwell, drive Bleu home from conference. "This thing taunts you to go faster." Exactly.

Taunt – toy; tease; abuse.

That's what good writers do. They give you little bite size pieces of the story, sometimes dipped in something sweet, spicy or bitter, to get your attention. Just enough to give you a "taste." Like potato chips. Lays knew what they were doing when they came up with the brilliant marketing plan—"You can never eat just one." The oily little beggars are addictive. Place a bag of plain M&M's to side, and I have nirvana at my fingertips.

Just like the chips, dusted with salt, or tiny morsels of chocolate covered in a thin layer of candy coating, a good story will hold you prisoner—taunt you with a little more on each page until you're addicted. You're not going to stop eating the chips until you've surpassed yours and the neighborhood's allotment; the bag of candy not only will be empty, but you'll smack the bag a couple of times to insure you didn't miss one; and you'll find yourself on page 100 of the book without realizing your family has been standing beside you, yelling your name the past hour.

A good author sets the pacing in the book as if by magic, to end a climatic scene literally at the stroke of midnight. You know you need sleep—morning seems to arrive earlier each day, but you can't put the book down. You tell yourself "one more chapter," five more miles an hour. But to continue the torture, the next scene comes nicely wrapped with a bow that can only be untied, the surprise discovered, in the following chapter.

Subconsciously, you decide how you'll get through the next day on little sleep, making an empty promise to your inner goddess that you'll go to bed earlier the next night, and keep reading… punch it—just for a second—feel the rush.

Most of the time, I am disciplined enough to know if I shut the book, the story won't vanish and I can read it the next day. Sometimes I purposely save a book only for reading at bedtime, giving me a reason to actually go to bed at a decent hour, even if only to read to an indecent hour (I like to trick my inner goddess by making her believe if I'm in the bed….).

But every now and again, I'll stumble on a story that defies all self-discipline. One that the author has ensnared me in a thick web of deceit by luring me in slowly, then does something to the character that I've become comfortable with, making me hate the character and the author for blindsiding me. A simple clue I missed because it was colored brown or gray to blend into the background, only to trip over it later and find the story unravels immediately on the discovery.

Now I can't stop reading. I like to think I'm good at solving puzzles, catching the predictable "camera clues," so when I don't, I'm also irritated with myself. How did I miss that? It was so simple? Now I'm on a quest to prove to myself I will not miss another one, but again, the author has pulled a "rabbit" out of their hat at the stroke of midnight. I turn the page, only to find out, everything I believed happened… Another curtain parts, leading me in a totally different direction. Now, I'm really pissed off.

"Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn. I'm only halfway through this torturous tale and have been inspired to spew or tout this author's ability in my latest blog. Lots of mixed reviews on this, and I can't tell you whether I love or hate the story…just that I'm addicted.

Read it? I'd love to hear your opinion (no spoilers though). Haven't? If you want to be flustered, intrigued, and your emotions yanked around, I recommend you get it. Warning, if you need a "happy ending" to make a book work, I'd hold off. Like I said, right now….I'm royally ticked.

Thanks a lot, Flynn.


Calisa Rhose said...

Haven't. But now I think I must...Thanks Joelene.

Anonymous said...

I've a shelf full of library books now and two on my Nook waiting to be read -- but I'll definitely look this one up.

Stayed up too late last night because I had to finish "The Night Circus," another book that teases you into turning just one more page.

Sandy B

Joelene Coleman said...

Just finished "Gone." Stars! The ending fueled my irritation. I've got to read a comedy or YA to rinse my thoughts. I feel "possessed" by the story.