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Intrigue–Keep Them Turning Pages

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holes

So I just finished re-reading Holes by Louis Sachar, and I rembered why I both love and hate it. Love it because it is a masterpiece of storytelling. A tightly-woven, page turning, thrill a page read. I hate it because I will forever wish I’d been the one who had written it.

Ah well.

That aside, in studying the structure of the story, one element really stuck out–the intrigue. I have a theory I’ve shared with my critique group: if you don’t tell the reader what they need, they’ll quit reading. If you don’t tell the reader what they want, they’ll keep reading until they get what they’re after. Sachar doesn’t disappoint. The entire novel is built on a framework of expanding intrigue in two ways. Page to page intrigue. And the chapter to chapter version.

The reader is sucked in from the first line: There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. Well, with that you can’t just stop there. You have to know why there is no lake at a place called Camp Green Lake. As the reader learns in the next few pages. (Spoiler Alert Below:)

Camp Green Lake not only has no lake, but neither is it a camp, aaaand there’s almost nothing green. In the next few pages of Chapter One, the reader is sucked into the revelations of what makes Camp Green Lake the “paradise” it is.

Chapter Two builds on the atrocities of Camp Green Lake and introduces us to our hero Stanley Yelnats who, we are told, was from a poor family, “and had never been to camp before.”

Chapter Three opens with a horrible bus ride and a gun-toting guard–and heaps of intrigue. We aren’t told what Stanley did to be assigned to Camp Green Lake. Instead, we are exposed to an explosion of questions we want to be answered. From sad sprinkled details of Stanley’s experiences as a bullied young man to recollections of his “no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather!”–we are ensnared into Stanley’s world and engulfed in mystery. Again, we don’t know if he is guilty or not. What we do know is that we feel sorry for him regardless, and we want to know more about him. To top it off, we are treated to a couple of other tidbits that will weigh heavily throughout the story–tidbits that are interesting enough in their own right and force us to find out what they mean.

I won’t go on recounting each chapter, but know this, by the time Sachar plops Stanley in the middle of Camp Green Lake and reveals even more atrocities (and more intrigue–deadly yellow spotted lizards!? ), we are hooked.

The take away? Knowing when to reveal information is key. Do it wrong, and it can not only fail to propel your story forward, it can turn into the dreaded info dump. But done right, sprinkled in just the right amount, and scattered over the appropriate number of pages, that same dump of information becomes a trail of yummy bread crumbs that we can’t eat up fast enough as we race to THE END.

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