Monday, 5 September 2011

Anxiety > Curiosity



The reader should want to know what happens next. The drive of curiosity is one of the main factors in what keeps those pages turning. But anxiety is a more powerful emotion than curiosity.

If I said I was curious to know the results of my blood test, that would be different to if I said I was anxious to know the results of my  blood test. And that anxiety is what keeps me sat by the phone waiting for the call (I’m fine, all tests came back negative).

That’s not to say you should always go for anxiety over curiosity, it’s depends on specific context and intention, but it should be a deliberate choice and you can only make that if you understand what it is your choosing between, and how to achieve each.

The main difference between the two is this: with anxiety you have to be aware of a possible bad outcome.


If someone knocks on the door you might be curious to know who it is. If the knock comes moments after you hear on the news the psycho killer who tried to kill you has escaped from prison, you might feel a little anxious.

Now, you may be a paranoid sort who feels anxious under any circumstance, always fearing the worst, and certainly we all know people of that sort, and it would be perfectly reasonable to have a character who reacts like that if you're writing towards the melodramatic, but for the purposes of this post let’s put that small subset to one side.

In order to feel anxiety you have to fear the possibility of something bad happening. In order to do that you have to be aware that it is a possibility, you have to make sure the reader has that information. In some cases the information is generic and already known. You hear a scrabbling under the floorboards and immediately start worrying you have mice. You don’t need to be told that there is a possibility mice can get into a house, that’s generally known. But info like that will have a less dramatic effect on the reader because it is so well known. 

A storm coming may carry the threat of destroying your home; a storm coming when you had just told your wife on the phone that you had completed the repairs on the roof like you promised but in fact you hadn’t will make the anxiety more palpable. Highlighting to the reader what the potential calamity might be, and making them character-specific details, will always ratchet up the pressure.

Sometimes you can word it in a way that makes it appear like it’s not the bad thing that’s making you anxious. My exam results arrive and I’m anxious about having got the grades I need. But what that feeling in my stomach really is about, is the dread that I haven’t.

So, in order to tighten that knot in the reader’s stomach (should that be a goal of yours) you need to reveal to the reader what can go wrong and then allow the opportunity where it very well might. It may not happen at all, in fact building up the tension and then making it come true immediately is inadvisable if you want to get the maximum juice out of it, but making sure the reader is aware of what the character DOESN’T want to happen and why (if it isn't obvious) is key to turning the reader’s curiosity into anxiety.


------------------------------------------------------------
If you found this post useful please retweet it. Cheers.


21 comments:

Crystal said...

Excellent advice! Creating anxiety for the readers is key for writing a page-turner.

christyfarmer said...

Always keep readers guessing! Thank you moody for you nice post and comment. Now following;)

Matthew MacNish said...

In other words it carries more weight if the character's suspicion of a possible negative outcome is a rational one. Well said, Moody, thanks for sharing!

Donna K. Weaver said...

Letting the reader know what's at stake, what the character can lose is a great way to get them interested.

"a storm coming when you had just told your wife on the phone that you had completed the repairs on the roof like you promised but in fact you hadn’t will make the anxiety more palpable. "

=D Someone could be so busted!

Suze said...

This post comes at an interesting time for me because, last week, as I was rereading a manuscript I hadn't touched since last autumn, I recognized that I had often toyed with a sense of menace in the text, but never delivered. It was like, 'Ah! This might happen! No, no, everything's all right. See?'

and

'Oh, this might happen! No, no, it's all under control, see?'

Sort of like I was gearing up to the knots in the stomach but didn't have the stomach as an author to truly allow a character to pay, a true consequence, a true threat. A true stake.

This past weekend, I let my fingers type something that would have been unthinkable to me during the first writing of this novel, initially a rambling 127,000-word exercise in wish fulfillment. The second draft was a bit grittier, much shorter-- even truncated-- and with this third ending I am now penning, I think I am finally coming to terms with a phrase which has survived from the first iteration,

Fear is a friend.

(If I were a twitterhead, I'd retweet your post, Moody. Alas, I am but a simple blogger. Cheers.)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

The thought that something could go very wrong makes a big difference.
You are such an expert at this stuff! This is why I never discuss writing on my blog. I'd only confuse people.

Tara said...

Anxiety is far more exciting for a reader than curiosity - so true!

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Great post! This is the part that really summed it up for me -

"If someone knocks on the door you might be curious to know who it is. If the knock comes moments after you hear on the news the psycho killer who tried to kill you has escaped from prison, you might feel a little anxious."

Oh, and hi from the Campaign Contemporary/Mainstream Group (2)... :)

Alleged Author said...

"In order to feel anxiety you have to fear the possibility of something bad happening."

Truer words were never spoken.

LD Masterson said...

Nicely explained.

Libby said...

Creating a knot in the reader's stomach = good goal!

julie fedderson said...

As always, a wonderful post on writing. You need to compile these if you haven't already, it would be a must read for writers.

Christa said...

Yep. I agree with this. What is the point if 'it will all be fine'????

Michael Offutt said...

Anxiety needs to be kept in balance though. I don't want to read a book to constantly be experiencing this emotion.

Sarah Pearson said...

Good points. We need to make sure that the sense of anxiety our MC feels is in proportion to the possible outcome as well. Too much and I guess you're veering towards the melodrama again.

mooderino said...

@Crystal-it certainly helps.

@Christy-thanks, good to have you.

@Matthew-well put. Rationale fears are far more scarey than irrational ones, for the reader at least.

@Donna-the reader knowing what's at stake is even more important than the character knowing.

@Suze-thanks, although not being on twitter is probably to your advantage. Time suck like you wouldn't believe.

@Alex-if by expert you mean rambling amateur who's easily distracted from what he should be doing, then yes, that's me.

@tara-yes, but it's also important to remember it's the reader's anxiety that's more importantthan the characters.

mooderino said...

@madeline-hello fellow campaigner, glad to have you aboard.

@Alleged-why, thank you. I like to think of myself as keeping it true.

@LD-cheers.

@Julie-I'm indexing them in my 'Moody's Pen' link at the bottom of the blog. Maybe I'll turn them into an ebook at some point.

@Chrita-in truth usually it all does end up fine, that's the nature of most stories, but somehow we have to convince people it won't be.


@Michael-absolutely. Choosing your moment is just as important.

@Sarah-the important thing is the anxiety the reader feels. You can do that through the character's anxiety, but if in one scene the killer sets off to kill someone, and in the next an old lady hears a noise upstairs but thinks nothing of it, the reader's anxiety will still be triggered even if the old lady's isn't.

Cheers for all the comments and RTs. Much appreciated.

Samantha said...

Thanks for the advice Mood! You're always so helpful :)

yikici said...

Very true insight, it's a delicate issue, but if the right balance is created then it works splendidly. Anxiety with suspense works a treat in engaging readers and keeps those pages turning (currently reading 'A Game of Thrones' and my anxiety levels are being tested throughout).

I'm a fellow campaginer too. :)

Stephen Tremp said...

Curiosity is mild. Anxiety is extreme. I love to place not only the good guys but the bad guys in anxious situations. Maybe the bad guy also has a bad guy chasing him that he has to contend with.

The Poetry Palace said...

Hello,

lovely creation, http://promisingpoetsparkinglot.blogspot.com/2011/09/window-to-world-on-life-of-poet-week-1.html

your blogging friend mentioned you in our post, please check it out.

leave a comment to thank her if you can.

keep up the excellence.

post a comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
 

MOODY WRITING © 2009

PSD to Blogger Templates realized by OOruc.com & PSD Theme designed by PSDThemes.com