Using Curiosity in Writing

Written By: TImothy Fish Published: 12/17/2007

Consider the following scene:

Jill walled into the spotless living room. Nothing was out of place. Every chair was where it was supposed to be. The magazines were in the rack. The books were on the shelves. There was nothing that was out of place, except right in the middle of the room was a t-ball stand and on top of it was a turtle that was struggling to find a way to get down.

The emotion a reader is likely to feel after reading a scene like that is curiosity or interest. The saying goes, ďif you are driving down a country road and you see turtle on a fence post, you know that sucker didnít get there by himself.Ē When we see something that we donít expect or something out of the ordinary we take notice and we want to understand how it came to be. When a reader comes to a turtle sitting on a post, she is curious and wants to find out why that turtle is on the post.

Curiosity can be caused by many unusual things and not just a turtle on a post. When we hope to make readers curious, there must be a mix between what is revealed and what is left untold. Artists learn that when they paint a picture of a door they should paint the door partly open. When a door in a painting is closed, it seems so final, as if nothing is behind it. When it is all the way open, the scene behind it is revealed. When the door is only partly open, the person viewing the painting feels an invitation to look behind the door, but he is unable to see past it, so he become curious about what is there. A similar practice works well with writing.

For the scene above, I could have told you about a young boy who decided to put the turtle on top of the stand. When Jill entered the room you would have no reason to feel curiosity, since you would know more than Jill at that point. It is because you can see that there is more to this story than what is first revealed that you became curious.

Curiosity is the thing that holds an audience. As the reader moves through the story, she finds things that make her curious. She will keep reading, hoping to find out what is going to happen or what has already happened to get to this point. Curiosity is to reading that thirst is to drinking water. When a person is curious, he will have a desire to keep reading to quench his desire for more information.

Several television shows build curiosity by using a back story that is revealed slowly during the years that the show is on the air. Every week there is something that reminds the audience that there is something more to learn, but it is not revealed all at once. Only enough is revealed to keep the audience asking questions.

One way for an author to keep an audience interested in a series is to use a back story that is revealed throughout the series. An author can employ similar techniques in one book as well. A character may appear in chapter one and reveal that there is something important that she needs to tell another character, but she canít do it right now. This can be used to lead the audience into chapter two, where the character is expected to reveal the problem, but the character dies before she can tell anyone. This puts the other character in the mode of looking for information that will reveal what the woman knew. If the author handles it well, the reader will hang on every word, hoping for more information to reveal the information he desires. That is the beauty of utilizing curiosity.