Some of you might be thinking, "Where have you been, Candice? Unboxing has been a trend for a while now."
I know. But today, I started thinking about why those videos are so popular. I mean, we open boxes all the time. It's not like there's anything special about the act itself. So what's the attraction?
And I realized that the answer to that question is also one of a writer's most important tools, no matter what genre(s) we write in:
Curiosity is something inherently human. Yes, animals show curiosity too, but no other species goes to the same lengths as humans do to satisfy their curiosity. Even dogs and chimpanzees have only gone to space because humans sent them there. For whatever reason, we humans just can't stand not knowing.
Unboxing videos work because of this hardwired curiosity. Even if we have a general idea of what's in the box, we still want to see the actual contents. We want to see/hear the filmmaker's unrehearsed reactions to those contents. We enjoy the suspense, but we ultimately want to know.
As writers, we can use this trait to engage our readers. However, many new writers go about it the wrong way. They often make the mistake of starting their pieces with an info dump, giving characters' or worlds' complete backstories or detailing the entire history of the topic they're discussing.
Yes, humans are curious, but no one likes to feel like they're drinking from a fire hose. (Come to think of it, those hoses are so powerful that the flow of water might take the skin off your lips. Ouch!) Human curiosity also has a powerful tempering factor: a desire to get to the point. If readers feel that an author is wasting their time with irrelevant information, many of them will stop reading, no matter how curious they are.
So instead of info-dumping, we writers need to use what I call the just-enough technique. Instead of providing all the information up front, we provide just the details that readers need to know right now—and we hint at more to come.
For instance, this article on the National Geographic website uses this technique expertly in the first paragraph. It gives us just enough information to know whom this article will be about, what kind of work he does, and what he's passionate about. It also stokes our curiosity by mentioning a question but not posing it right away (at least, not until the next paragraph).
As an example from fiction . . . I can't believe I'm doing this, but let's look at the first sentence from Twilight. 'Tis hard to argue with that kind of financial success, after all (and yes, I just used 'tis in an ordinary sentence):
"I'd never given much thought to how I would die—though I'd had reason enough in the last few months—but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this."
This sentence gives us just enough information to know that the narrator faces imminent death, apparently has run that risk for several months, and finds the potential mechanism unusual. Immediately we have questions: Why is the narrator about to die? What's been going on that they've been in this much danger for a long time but haven't thought much about death? What's so odd about the current threat? Those questions—and the curiosity behind them—drive us to keep reading.
While we often hear about "hooking" readers with an opening sentence, that's only the first place we want to engage curiosity. In tomorrow's post, I'll discuss how we can use the just-enough technique later in a piece.
P.S. Do you prefer to write your first draft by hand or on the computer? Let me know in a comment!
(Thanks to Yours for sharing their work on Unsplash.)