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Hooked! Intrigue in The Night Gardener

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As a writer, it’s very difficult for me to simply read a book. I find that other part of my brain taking over–the one that wants to analyze and dissect why something does or doesn’t work in a book. In the case of The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier, I found that the story soon had me reeled in and obsessively turning pages. Luckily for me, that other section of my brain didn’t have to work too hard to figure out what it was that sucked me in. As I mentioned in WWAT’s group post last week: “What Hooked Me in The Night Gardener,” It was the intrigue.

Before reading The Night Gardener I’d really been thinking quite a bit about backstory and flashbacks, so I was already dialed into paying attention to how authors provided necessary details while avoiding the dreaded info dumps. Arguments against a spray of words revealing a character’s backstory are plentiful. But for me, the reasons crystalize in the following statement: Info-dumping robs your reader and just importantly you, of the opportunity to hook your reader slowly. Instead of the wall of text that comes with revealing information all at once, if a writer scatters those snippets like breadcrumbs, a reader will eagerly follow. Now, there is a balance of how much is enough, and that leads me to my next theory: Don’t give a reader what she needs, and she will stop reading. Don’t give a reader what she wants, and she’ll read until she gets it. The trick is to discern the difference between what the reader needs and what the reader wants. In The Night Gardener, Auxier hits just the right balance and knows the difference between the two.

Caution: Spoilers ahead…

As I mentioned above, it didn’t take long for Auxier to set the first hook. We open with two young siblings on their way to work for an odd, but wealthy family. The first piece of intrigue is where are their parents? Auxier doesn’t reveal this, and it becomes a central piece of the story. Soon they meet an old lady, as mysterious as the woods they’re traveling through, who warns them about their destination–a supposedly haunted house. From there, the intrigue keeps mounting:

  • The tree they find growing near and through the house
  • The mother and her comments
  • The father and why he hasn’t been around
  • What happened to the father’s parents
  • The mysterious door and the room it protects
  • The figure that comes at night
  • The footprints that seemingly vanish
  • The hole and its malicious contents
  • The father and his business dealings
  • The men who come calling
  • The money the father produces
  • The books the family’s daughter keeps by her bedside
  • The ring the mother of the family wears
  • The bad dreams everyone has
  • The glowing garden they find in the forest
  • The “night man” and his actions
  • The reappearance of the old woman they met in the woods
  • The gift the old woman gives them

 

And these aren’t even all the mysteries. One after another, Auxier introduces pieces of intrigue. When one mystery is revealed, two more are introduced. They seemingly sprout from nowhere and grow just as the mysterious tree the story revolves around. A reader finds it hard to put the book down if only because the questions have to be answered, and not until the very end are the last answers revealed.

The take-away here for me was as I mentioned above. If you find yourself with a block of backstory, ask yourself if there is a way you can sprinkle it throughout your story. In doing so, you’ll not only avoid the dump, you’ll strengthen your story with a strong trail that you’ll enjoy revealing and your reader will yearn to follow.

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