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We’ve all done it at one time or another, haven’t we? Stayed up late, even all night, reading a page turner – a book that we just couldn’t put down? A story that propelled us forward, drawing us in because we just couldn’t wait to see what happened next. Sometimes it’s the plot that draws us in, sometimes it’s the rich, lively language, sometimes it’s both. But whatever craft the author uses to engage us, whatever the blend of action and art, you can be sure there’s one ingredient in the mix: suppressed energy.
What is this mysterious quality and how do we bring it to the page in our own writing? Suppressed energy is a sense of restrained excitement bubbling just below the surface of your story, a wave of unexpressed emotion that carries your reader along from sentence to sentence, page to page. There’s a fine line between excitement and anxiety – and if you hit this “sweet spot” in your writing, it can be irresistibly attractive and take your readers exactly where you want them to go. Here are a few ways to create this feeling:
Think “transfer of energy” – Whenever we connect with someone else either in real life or on the page, there’s a potential energy exchange going on. We either boost their energy or deplete it. In some cases, nothing happens and we have no impact at all. If you think of the page as a source of energy for your reader, it can help enliven your prose.
Create questions — One of the best ways to trigger excitement and engagement in your readers is to simply raise questions. Fuel anticipation and keep them off balance by giving them the sense that “Something is happening here. I don’t know what it is, but I need to find out.” Withholding and releasing information sparks interest and anxiety.
Vary your sentences: Short, choppy sentences can be effective in agitating readers and making them edgy – they’re the stock and trade of action scenes. But they can also quickly lose their impact — a verbal bombardment can be fatiguing. One way to avoid this is to vary your writing rhythm and energize it by shifting between short and long sentences. This create an ebb and flow, pulling readers back, then pushing them forward.
Give verve to your verbs: Take full advantage of the action and energy that flow from rich, colorful verbs. Make it a point to “sprinkle a little magic” in every paragraph as Raymond Chandler said so well. One of the best tools in your writing kitbag are verbs that energize and ignite your prose. Make sure your verbs sing and dance on and off the page.
Confuse your characters: One of the most effective ways to spark energy on the page is to let your readers tap into the energy of the characters you create by confusing them. Make them ricochet emotionally between excitement and anxiety in tense, stressful situations. Don’t hold back – give them all the yeasty emotions you might feel yourself.
Energy on the page – what a gift it is to our readers! Let’s tap into it as we all write on!