Friday, August 2, 2019

Attack on Titan and Mystery: How to Keep Your Readers Turning Pages (Or Clicking on the Next Episode)

Mystery is not just for mystery stories. Attack on Titan is one of the most popular anime out there running and it's not primarily because it's packed with action, it's because of the questions it makes you ask: Where did the titans come from? Who is Colossal Titan and Female Titan? When is this story taking place? In the future? Is it in our world? What are the intelligent Titans' goals? How will our heroes ever stop these things?

You want to click to the next episode not just to see if characters live or die but to find out all of these mysteries! Season three has finally revealed a number of these answers prefacing the show's final season and this show handled mystery in such an amazing way and it's something you can apply to your stories too to make sure they flip to the next chapter as fast as you can click the next episode on Crunchyroll.

WARNING: Spoilers up to the end of Season 3 of Attack on Titan, but I will redact the big spoilers with a black highlight which you can highlight with your mouse to read. 

Action can't hold a reader throughout an entire story. It's exhausting and a good story balances action with rest periods, but what propels your entire story forward is ultimately what your readers don't know. Your readers don't know if characters are going to survive the book or accomplish their goals. Those are the big picture, but there are smaller mysteries (that can have the option to be more central to the plot) that keeps it moving throughout action and rest periods. Here are five big ones that nag at your reader so hard they just have to know the answers!

1.) Someone's Identity - When we think of this we think of the classic Whodunnit tale of finding out the killer, which can branch out beyond a Nancy Drew or Agatha Christy novel. The first Throne of Glass novel involves discovering the identity of a killer and in Attack on Titan a big mystery is discovering who assassinated two captured titans and the identity of the intelligent Titans who have murdered thousands.  The secret identity doesn't have to be that of a killer's. It can be of someone who's helped like the Blue Spirit in Avatar: The Last Airbender or Sheikh from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

When a mysterious person comes on the scene in shadow or commits a crime behind our backs, we just have to know who it was. The primary reason we read crime novels is to find this out, but this can be used in spec fic as well. 

2.) Worldbuilding - When you're thrust into a new amazing unique world that you've never seen before you want to know all about it, especially when they mention strange new creatures, people, plants, cities, etc. This is often the big reason while I'll continue to read a book. I just have to know about this amazing world!

In Attack on Titan, you want to know about the walls, how these people got there, how the Titans got there, how their government works, how to people survive in a confined area. The list goes on. There's a crap ton of worldbuilding here that you're just dying to know about! In Brent Week's The Black Prism you don't know what the heck "The Freeing" is, but you get more and more curious as the book goes to find out. In Avatar: The Last Airbender, there are so many different unique nations and when the characters reach the Fire Nation you're excited to know what these firebenders who live common lives are like. Drop bits of information about your worldbuilding and let them niggle your readers and slowly but surely scatter answers in.

3.) What Something is For or Where It Came From - When characters stumble upon an object that they don't know what it is, you're as curious as they are.

When the characters in Attack on Titan find the syringe, thunder spears, and a photograph, you're dying to know what they do and how the heck they got a photograph when none of them have even heard of cameras. Even when Ymir finds a can of food with a language no one else can read immediately tons of questions arise about how in the world she can read another language when everyone speaks the same one within the walls.

In other media, the Infinity Stones are a big thing that drove people crazy with questions. Unless you read the comics, you don't know that the Tesseract and Loki's scepter are Infinity Stones until movies later! Annihilation centers on what is behind a prismatic wall that came out of nowhere and the characters are struggling to find out what it is and where it came from.

4.) Someone's Plans - Why is the villain doing what he's doing? Why is this certain person helping the main character? What are they planning?

When the characters in Attack on Titan, discover Reiner and Bertholdt want to destroy humanity, they're pining to discover why. What's their reasoning? When they uncover a conspiracy within the walls, they seek to discover why the government is suppressing technology and manipulating information. These questions are just tearing at you to be answered. I was suffering between each week of episodes because I just had to know!

Going back to Avengers, we didn't know for the longest time why Thanos wanted the Infinity Stones. Yeah, they're powerful, but what did he want to do with them? The same with Xehanort from Kingdom Hearts. Why did he form Organization XIII? What's his goal? 

5.) Backstory - This is a huge one. Why is a character the way they are? What made them become good or evil? Why did they do what they did? 

In season three of Attack on Titan, we finally find out why Grisha Jaegar has done all he has, no matter how terrible. But for three bloody seasons, we had no idea why he gave Eren the key, turned him into a Titan, and killed the royal family. This urged me to keep watching.

How did Zuko get burned? What happened to his mom? How did Oliver Queen become the Green Arrow? Why is Kaz from Six of Crows disgusted by touching human flesh? Why does Queen Irina want to take over Ravenspire? What is the deal with Ardyn Izunia in Final Fantasy XV? These are questions that keep people playing/watching/reading.

Conclusion - You want your readers to ask questions, so create questions that they'll beg to know the answers for and they have to keep reading to find out.

Credit to neroabisso

What mystery have you implemented in your story? What mystery in a story drove you the most to find out the answer? Do you have any thoughts to add? Have you seen Attack on Titan? Are you caught up?

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