Not too long ago, I had an interesting conversation on Verla Kay’s writer discussion boards about the book The Dust of 100 Dogs. A fellow writer loved the book, but I didn’t, and each of us were presenting our reasons why. It was a great conversation.
Then the other person said something really interesting. He said that the answers to some of my questions were in a Q&A in the newest paperback. I’d already seen that section and it hadn't changed my opinion, but right then something else in me went ‘huh.’ Was there a need for this Q&A section? As in, had these questions been asked so many times that the author and publisher found it beneficial to publish the answers?
If so, what does that say about the book? Does it say that the book was so widely popular that readers were clamoring for more information? Or does it say that the information in the book was incomplete, and this Q&A section was a way to fill in the blanks?
Personally, I think it’s both in this case. The Dust of 100 Dogs is definitely a compelling and popular book, and the readers loved it enough to ask about the missing information rather than toss the book aside. Which is great! I love it when books incite that kind of curiosity.
Of course, that begs the following question. Does this mean you should create a Q&A for your book?
My answer: NO. Absolutely not. Just because it worked for one book doesn’t mean it will work for all books. Especially for writers with no publishing track record. When we write down our stories, we have to make sure that all the necessary information gets into the text. Otherwise, we run the risk of confusing the reader with plot holes, unanswered questions, inconsistent character behavior, etc. Providing the reader with a list of explanations in a Q&A isn’t likely to keep him from putting the book down (because those are always at the end, and the reader may not make it that far), so we need to consider a Q&A, interview, or other appendix-like piece as a bonus. Not necessary, but something fun that will enrich the story.
We, as writers, have to do more than hook a reader. We have to keep him. In most cases, we get one shot. If we blow it, not only will that reader avoid the rest of our books, he will likely tell others to avoid us, too.
So, in addition to hooking an editor or agent, we also have to think about how we are going to hook *and keep* our readers. Here are some ways to do that.
-Any questions raised in the beginning of the story must be answered by the end.
-Established behavior in the characters must remain consistent throughout the story, unless a large enough (and believable) event can explain the changes in that behavior.
-Any definitions introduced in the story must remain consistent and coherent throughout. This includes the rules created in world building, as well as keeping the setting consistent.
-New characters or changes in the setting shouldn’t pop out of nowhere in the end. The reader needs some kind of subtle preparation, at the very least.
-Keep the plot consistent, and make sure your characters have valid reasons for doing what they do. Hint: ‘they need to do this because it gets them from point A to B’ or ‘because that’s how the story goes’ are not valid reasons.
How do we know we are doing the items listed above effectively? The best and easiest way to tell is when your critique partners give you feedback. Do they have questions? Did they find something confusing? Did they misunderstand certain parts of the story, or a character’s actions?
If you find yourself saying ‘that’s because of xyz,’ or feel that you need to 'defend' your story, STOP. Write down what your critique partner is saying and then go through your manuscript to see if you can figure out how she got to where she did. Then figure out a way to fix it and give it back to her to see if it clears things up. If it does, great! If not, try again.
Lather, rinse, repeat. :)
Who said writing a book was easy, anyway? :)