With two small kids, I tend to watch a lot of Disney movies.  No, strike that. My kids watch the movies while the audio invades my subconscious.  That's better. 

The Disney enterprise is a highly successful business, raking in millions upon millions.  Whether or not you like what they're selling, you can't argue that their formula works and that we, as storytellers, could learn a lot from their tactics.

I'm aware that some authors write purely for themselves.  That's cool, but I don't.  It's always been a dream of mine to hang out on the bestseller lists for weeks and weeks as I collect royalties, but more realistically, I write to engage with others. There's nothing more thrilling that having readers connect to your characters or story and want to talk to you about it.  To do that, I have to put out content that they actually want to read. It's a two part process:  the initial enticement and then the engagement that causes them to stick around.    There's some magic formula out there that drives both, but I haven't figured it out yet.  I am, however, starting to pick up pieces of it. 


Yes wolves. They come in any form - bears, a car chase, a red herring in a murder mystery,the appearance of an ex girlfriend...you get it.  Peril.  Because of a movie that my daughter loves (A little flick called Frozen. Perhaps you've heard of it.), I'm calling it wolves.

Here is a picture I stole from the internet.  We know who it belongs to.

For those unfamiliar with the movie or able to tune it out better than I can, let me explain. There's a scene not long after the catastrophic reveal of Elsa's powers.  Anna ventures out into the wilderness to go after her, joins up with Kristoff, they're going on a nice sled ride up to North Mountain, when suddenly they encounter multiple sets of yellow glowing eyes.  Wolves.  They chase after the sled, threatening to eat our adventures, Kristoff fends them off in a very daring way, but the sled is lost in the process.  You could say that this device sets up a later event. (Anna replaces his sled and Kristoff is so happy that he kisses her.)  But it's more effective at inserting action into an otherwise uneventful sled-riding scene.

What can writers take away from this? 

When most of us learned about story structure  - usually in a high school English class - we were taught that it looked like a mountain. 

Here is another picture I stole from the internet.  Attribution link in properties.

I'd argue that it the terrain is more rugged.
Guess where I got this one? Yep, stole it from the internet.  Attribution in image properties.
You're still working toward that all-important climax, but little bits of action or intrigue peppered into the main story line can really help to hold reader interest.  There is, of course, a right way and a wrong way to employ this tactic. If you jump from one action scene to another, you're going to give your readers a seizure, or at best overwhelm them into confusion.  You may even bore them.  Constantly rising stakes have diminishing returns.   Scenes of calm or happiness (some may dare to call these lulls) are vital for maintaining balance.

Also, whatever element you add should directly impact or enrich the primary plot, aid in character development, or add something integral to the story.  If it doesn’t, it’s fluff.  Readers don’t want to read more than they have to.  Except those oddballs who enjoy purple prose, maybe.  I’d wager to say that if you do, you’re probably not here reading my stuff.

So, what tricks do you have up your sleeve?  What tactics have you found that either draw readers in or help to keep their attention?  If you're one of those readers, what keeps you turning pages?  Leave me a comment and let me know.


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