I don't watch the evening news (too depressing), but I do love watching The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.
On June 26th, Stephen Colbert interviewed Richard Ford, whose new book is called 'Canada'.
Link to the episode is here, unfortunately, the feed is not available to Canadians, and I don't know about the rest of the world, although obviously if you have a VPN service running, you can watch it anywhere.
The book 'Canada' starts out:
"First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then the murders, which happened later."
...and Colbert's comment really hit me. He said (paraphrasing) "Why should I read the book now? You've given away the entire plot in the first two lines."
Ford's answer was something along the lines of, "Well, I hope you'll be anticipating those events and read on to find out what happens."
The reason this comment hit me is because 'Brake Fluid' is remarkably similar. On the first page you know Jackson's dead in the trunk and before the end of chapter one, you know there was a party six months earlier where Jackson hit Triss and she stabbed him with a butter knife. You also know that party is the reason Jackson's now dead, and that he died a couple of days before the story actually starts.
That means, in the first chapter, you know how the two past nights ended, and you can assume the ending of what's happening in the present... since the MC & Triss are trying to get rid of the body.
So... have I given it all away?
Well, I don't like to think so. This is my first time writing a murder-mystery-ish type story, but murder mysteries always start out with a dead body, and you read on to figure out who did it.
'Brake Fluid' is a little different in that all the characters involved know who did it, but the reader doesn't.
All three timelines (the party six month ago, the night Jackson died, and the present where they're trying to get rid of the corpse) play out in bite-sized chunks.
And I wonder, is that anticipation enough that someone will want to keep reading?
Let's just take one, small aspect of the story. Triss stabbing Jackson with the butter-knife.
I chose a butter-knife because it's a funny/memorable enough item that the reader won't forget the stabbing is coming*. Sure, it happens at the end of the party, so they have to wait for it, but they know it's coming even while everything else is going on, and they don't know the exact circumstances of when/why it happened.
The first time the reader actually sees the knife is midway through Chapter 13, but the actual stabbing doesn't happen until Chapter 16. The butter knife is mentioned several times in between, but that's it. It's there, hanging around, just waiting to be used.
As I'm working on my first editing run on this story, the question of anticipation is something that weighs heavily on my mind. Will it encourage the readers to eat up the story faster, or will it get annoying, like I'm deliberately dangling a carrot out of reach?
And I supposed I won't have any clear answers until I get comments back from my writing group/online CP's.
Have you ever written a story where the anticipation of the event is more important than the event itself? How do you know when 'enough is enough'?
* I've even seriously though of re-working the title to include 'butter knife'. The closest I've come to a substitute I like is, 'Butter Knives, Brake Fluid & Body Bags', but I think it's too much of a mouthful. The rhythm isn't as nice as 'Brake Fluid, Blood & Body Bags'. What do you guys think? Even in the title, I'm pretty much giving it all away ;)