Delayed Gratification

When is the last time you really dissected a favourite book?

For the readers among you, let’s be naked honest… not ever. Honestly, why bother? Readers want to enjoy a damned good story, and how it works doesn’t matter. Not a whit.

Yet, for any writers, we’re constantly trying to decipher what makes a good book, a GOOD BOOK or a good show, A GOOD SHOW or a good movie, A GOOD MOVIE. Aren’t we? Go on, authors, raise a sheepish hand… *GRIN*

Something I’ve noticed in my dissection of different media – a secret withheld leads to delayed gratification for the reader/viewer.

Therefore, I find it is useful to remember the kind of experience I want for a reader. And I want them to experience delayed gratification.

To do this, I withhold a secret and use hints/foreshadowing sprinkled throughout the book, with a revelation (a few) at the climax.

So, the secrets will hopefully arouse audience curiosity. Hints/foreshadowing should feed that curiosity. My readers will hopefully be guessing the book’s secrets as they read. I predict they’ll guess some secrets, but not all of them.

What are books with a similar ability to deliver delayed gratification? Big Little Lies springs to mind. Read it or seen it? If not, then do.

And I’m not suggesting my book will be as good as my examples, but these are close to what I’m trying to achieve – in YA fantasy.

All the way through Big Little Lies we wonder, ‘who got murdered?’ But when we learn the secret, we are hit with not one secret (or twist), but two. And each “twist” has it’s own trail of breadcrumbs throughout the story, so the reader/viewer is satisfied at the end because the trail of breadcrumbs has made the ending inevitable. And the “twists” make the revelation of the secret, i.e. who got murdered, oh so satisfying.

If we’d known the secret ahead of time, the “twists” would have lost their impact. There would be no tension. What reader enjoys no tension?

What about in Great Expectations? *SPOILERS* don’t read the following paragraph if you haven’t read this book.

Pip meets a frightful man in the first chapter. Later we learn Pip has a mysterious benefactor. It’s only around the 70% mark, we learn this secret i.e. who is this mysterious benefactor?… and he is the frightful man of the first chapter. If the reader knew that at the outset, then how could’ve Dickens built such a mystery around it?

That’s the art of delayed gratification at play.

If it suits your story, try to achieve the experience of delayed gratification in your own work.

Can you name a book using delayed gratification?

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