Sunday, June 11, 2017

The ABCs of Book Writing: M is for MOMENTUM . . .

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. . . and MOVING the story forward.

Every book needs sustained forward momentum. Like a radio or TV show that suddenly has dead air, a book in which momentum halts sends a clear signal: something is wrong.

Momentum in fiction and creative nonfiction

To hold the reader’s interest, all novels must create and maintain a sense of the plot going forward. In a thriller, this momentum is typically very fast. In other kinds of novels the pace may be slower, more like real life. But the forward momentum must be there nonetheless, or the reader feels no need to read on. Creative nonfiction must similarly establish and maintain momentum in order to attract and keep the reader's attention.

Sustaining momentum in fiction and creative nonfiction

For novels, novellas, and stories:

—Cultivate conflict and problems. Stories are propelled by the conflicts and problems that characters encounter and resolve. Remove all conflict and you have no plot; fail to sustain conflict and you get a plot that stops and starts. Instead, constantly thrust the character into scenes where the character must confront conflicts, take action, and solve problems—thus changing, growing, furthering the plot, and always moving the story forward.

—Keep explanatory description of settings, people's physical appearance, and emotions to a necessary minimum. Never lecture. Show, don't tell.

—Avoid long flashbacks. Integrate flashback information bit by bit into the main action of the story.

—Avoid detailed backstory. As with flashbacks, integrate the necessary background information into the main action.

For memoirs, biographies, popular histories, and true crime:

Use any or all of the strategies noted above to ensure that your readers stay engaged. Creative nonfiction typically employs many, if not all, of the narrative techniques of fiction. What I have said with respect to fiction writing therefore applies to your work of creative nonfiction. While you may be able to take greater liberties with description, flashbacks, and backstory than you would with fiction writing, the need to sustain forward momentum always remains.

Momentum in expository nonfiction

Expository nonfiction does not have a story in the same way as fiction or creative nonfiction. But books specifically designed to explain and instruct must still convey to the reader a sense of forward thrust, of constantly moving toward any or all of the following:

-conclusion of an argument
-solution to a problem
-benefit for the reader
-specific action the reader can take
-fresh insight
-new skill or knowledge

If the nonfiction book appears to lack such momentum and direction, readers will disengage in the same way that they would from a novel that grinds to a halt.

Sustaining momentum in expository nonfiction

For how-to, self-help, and motivational books; textbooks; and academic and technical works:

Remember the reader
Making a habit of putting reader understanding before a
display of your own knowledge will automatically help
sustain forward momentum.
—Stay focused on the book's ultimate objective. Avoid digressing.

—Be concise. Avoid lecturing.

—Be clear. Don't obfuscate by writing in circles around the subject.

—Remember the reader. Always prioritize reader understanding over showing off your own expertise or erudition.

Keep moving, keep readers

Forward momentum equals reader engagement
Daisy, the Helping You Get Published mascot, demonstrates
forward momentum and reader engagement.
All readers know the power of those books that compel us to keep turning the pages to find out what comes next. Momentum is the source of this power. Without sustained momentum, you not only lose writing power but you lose readers. Forward momentum is at the heart of reader engagement. Successful writing is that simple—and that challenging.

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