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Holly Lisle

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So how DO you keep from boring the socks off your readers? (And in a related question, how do you keep from putting YOURSELF into a coma while writing your story?)

Well... you CAN cheat, making grand promises, going off in a million cool directions...and then have the whole thing fizzle into a big wet lump of "it was all a dream" or "it was just a misunderstanding."

You can, in other words, suck.

Or you can play fair.

To be true to your You and your Muse, craft a story that delivers what it promises. To do that, you need to do this:

Create a believable story where actions are followed by consequences. In real life, situations happen this way, so don't hold back in your stories. It may seem cruel, but your audience will actually thrive on how much trouble you can heap on your protagonist while watching him drag himself over broken glass by his lips to save the woman he loves.

And if you have a female protagonist willing to make that sort of commitment to the man she loves, stand back. You'll flat-out floor your readers, and get wistful fan mail from men who want to know where to meet a woman like that. (I have the fan mail to prove it. :D )

Let's go deeper, into the two paths you can take to create stories:

You have cheating narrative and you have sustained narrative.

Cheating narrative uses smokescreens and parlor tricks to entice a reader through the book, teasing with cliffhangers that never go anywhere, promising character conflict that never materializes, and getting to the end of the book with nothing that matters having happened from one end to the other. Cheaters try to keep the reader from discovering that they had nothing to say, but were using a ludicrous amount of words to say it. Except, unfortunately for the cheaters of the writing world, readers are pretty bright, and sooner or later they catch on. And then they get ticked off, and bounce your book off a wall, and tell the 5000 people on their MySpace page just how much your book reeked.

Sustained narrative follows a logical path from point A to point B to point C. Conflict begets chaos, cliffhangers frequently send the character off the cliff, and promises made are promises kept. This leaves the reader satisfied with your story, but hungry for more. Writing sustained narrative gives you fans who write telling you to hurry up with your next book, because they cannot wait to read it.

To get sustained narrative, first you CREATE. You begin with a situation that might happen in the real world (or a believable magical or alternate world) given the right set of circumstances. The stage is set and the air is ripe with problems for your main character.

Then you COMPLICATE, by building logical problems. Readers can't be allowed to see the problems coming, but when you pull them out, they have to be both surprised, and they have to say, "Yes. Of course! That IS what would happen." The complications you add must follow as a natural progression of your initial situation.

RESOLVING the complicated situations your characters find themselves in is not always easy. If you wrap the solution up in a neat little box with a bow, people are going to litter the landfill with your book. If you wimp out with "it was just a misunderstanding," well, we've been over that. If it was a misunderstanding, it didn't matter, and why did we waste our money on your book? Your resolution has to resonate with the story that came before it, it has to make sense, and it has to surprise.

Don't cheat. Win your readers by telling stories that matter, by daring to make promises, and by daring to keep them. Do this, and the people who read your first book will be looking for the second faster than you can sign the contract for it.

You can do this.

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Holly Lisle, full-time novelist and author of more than 30 published novels, teaches you how to write a book in How To Think Sideways: Career Survival School For Writers. You can download three free course modules today and receive her free writing tips right now at
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MLA Style Citation:
Lisle, Holly "Create, Complicate, Resolve: The Keys to Keeping Your Readers Interested." Create, Complicate, Resolve: The Keys to Keeping Your Readers Interested. 10 Mar. 2009 24 Nov. 2017 <>.
APA Style Citation:
Lisle, Holly (2009, March 10). Create, Complicate, Resolve: The Keys to Keeping Your Readers Interested. Retrieved November 24, 2017, from
Chicago Style Citation:
Lisle, Holly "Create, Complicate, Resolve: The Keys to Keeping Your Readers Interested." Create, Complicate, Resolve: The Keys to Keeping Your Readers Interested
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