The Number One Rule Of Writing You’re Probably Overlooking

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It’s critical in fiction or nonfiction and any genre or sub-genre. If you don’t do it, nobody will read your work.

I learned this concept when I worked with a copywriting mentor. He drilled the importance of it into my head every day.

In the most recent book I read about writing, the author never mentioned it. I just gave up on a novel with beautiful prose because it lacked this quality.

What glues the reader to your words?

Curiosity compels your reader to go from one sentence to the next. We know the importance of it, at least intuitively, but we often brush it off in favor of other considerations.

I’m going to share with you four techniques to generate curiosity. I’ll wrap up this story with a question you can ask yourself in the editing process to determine if your work fulfills the curiosity requirement.

Before we get to the techniques, let’s define it. You can find multiple definitions on the internet, but this one has always resonated with me for its simplicity.

Curiosity — The gap between what you know and what you want to know

You can also think of it as an equation.

Curiosity = What you desire to know — what you know

Writing in the second person (you and your) works well in blogging; it makes your reader the center of attention. You can’t go wrong with that approach, but it doesn’t fit all styles, and you have other tools at your disposal.

Curiosity can exist before a reader sets eyes on your piece, but you can also generate it using the techniques I share here.

Invent a desire for knowledge

What if I told you that I know of a cure for dark circles under your eyes and it doesn’t involve creams, dietary changes, supplements, or surgery?

If you suffer from dark circles under your eyes, you would be intrigued to find out the answer. The way I presented you the clues generated curiosity.

Let’s look at the source statement.

Studies show eight hours of sleep removes dark circles from your eyes.

Instead of telling you that statement up front, I told you about all the things it’s not. That approach creates a desire to find out what it is. It manufactured a gap between what you knew and what you wanted to know.

You can achieve the same effect, by revealing the benefit of something but leaving out what and how it creates the benefit.

I used the “T.P.I. technique” to lose thirty pounds last month. => What’s the T.P.I technique and how does it work?


No doubt, you come across meaningless secrets every day. You don’t remember them because they fail to resonate with you.

The secret, if revealed, must benefit the reader or quench a thirst for knowledge about a subject.

I titled one of my most successful stories, The Silent Productivity Killer Nobody Talks About.

The keywords that generated curiosity were silent, and nobody talks about. The title implies a secret. It’s far more potent than explicitly stating you know a secret.

Turbocharge your secrets

A secret that someone or some group tries to withhold from you generates insatiable interest. Compare these two sentences.

There’s a question you should ask every time you visit your doctor. It could impact your health outcome.

There’s a health statistic your doctor never talks about even if you ask. Here’s how to make sure they give you a truthful answer.

The second one brims with curiosity. It implies they’re actively trying to withhold information critical to your health.

Note: the above examples are for illustrative purposes. They do not reference a real secret or health statistic.

Ask Answer Ask

Maintaining a bit of mystery works well to sustain curiosity, but you run the risk of irritating your reader. We’ve all read stories or articles and thought, enough with the manufactured suspense. Get to the point already. You can get away with this in a novel (maybe) because a reader invests in it; they expect it.

We need to approach it with more nuance in the online world. Clicking away to another story costs your reader nothing.

Tying up loose ends creates a different problem.

It eliminates the sense of anticipation — the feeling that you need to keep going to find out what comes next.

How do we maintain curiosity without alienating your reader with mystery fatigue?

Dan Brown, the author of The Da Vinci Code, has talked about his technique of creating compelling questions to generate curiosity. He raises a question and lets it simmer. He then answers the open question while also creating a new one. This approach can help you avoid mystery fatigue — losing patience with a mystery.

This example demonstrates the approach.

Let’s suppose you’re telling a story about someone who stole a jar of cash contributions destined for a charity.

Surveillance video showed Dave placing the jar of money in his knapsack, but I pointed out a problem to security. Dave was out of the office the day it was stolen.

We know that Dave ended up with the jar, but now we’re wrapped up with a new question. How did he get it?

This technique lends itself to fiction, but it can work in nonfiction too.

Taking pleasure in the less fortunate

My former sales manager used to remind me of this tenet of human nature.

People feel better about themselves when compared to someone worse off.

We can tweak this advice and use it to write stories that trigger a feeling of curiosity and anticipation.

Let’s look at an example and then explain how it works. Compare these three statements.

  1. I ate a bland lunch today. I then experienced an uneventful day of work, struggling with boredom.
  2. I ate lunch at a five-star restaurant today. The chef asked for my autograph. I then closed a seven-figure deal on my way back to the office. One question remained. Would the commission pay for that new Tesla?
  3. I experienced an embarrassing digestion issue at lunch. The manager asked me to leave. On my way back to work, my boss texted me: you’ve been terminated. I still had five hours before meeting with Kim. She wanted to have a “serious talk.”

The first example bored you to tears. The second one annoyed you; nobody likes a braggart.

The third example was an exaggeration, but the series of unfortunate events generated more curiosity than the other examples.

It’s natural to feel hesitant about sharing personal details, ones that frame you as a failure, unlucky or incompetent.

Readers devour them for two reasons.

  1. There’s a guilty pleasure from learning about people worse off than you.
  2. Stories of heartbreak, injustice and bad luck also allow us to learn from these unfortunate experiences without living through them.

The Curiosity Test

Ask yourself this question after each sentence during the editing process.

Does this sentence compel the reader to the next sentence?

Written by

Experimenter in life, productivity, and creativity. Work in Forge | Elemental | Business Insider | GMP | Contact: barry@barry-davret dot com.

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