I pulled in the driveway. Something caught my eye. The backdoor was wide open. That’s often a sign the kids are playing outside. They leave the back door open to go in and out of the house. I parked the car and made my way inside.
I tiptoed upstairs. I found leftover food sitting on the dining room table. A laundry basket full of clothes blocked the entrance to the kitchen.
“Weird. What the heck is going on here?”
I ran downstairs to the garage. My wife’s car was gone.
“They sure left in a hurry.”
I checked my phone to see if I missed any texts, but found nothing. Next, I texted my wife. I worried there may have been an emergency.
Fifteen minutes passed. Paranoia crept in. What if something happened? Was it so bad she didn’t have a chance to text me yet?
I checked our shared calendar. I looked on Facebook. No clues.
After twenty minutes of worry, a text arrived.
“We’re at the ice cream social (at school). I thought you knew about it.”
Within seconds, the worry evaporated. I put on some music and poured a glass of wine. Time to relax.
I Lied To You
This story isn’t really about a simple misunderstanding.
Look at the headline that drew you into this article. Did you form a story in your head the second you read it? What did you picture?
A little bit of mystery leads to curiosity. Curiosity leads to anticipation. We must know how it all plays out. I wrapped it up with a bit of surprise.
Nobody guessed my family was out for an ice cream party at a school.
To create this effect I used a simple formula.
First, I selected three separate, but related details.
The three details give you enough information to build a story. Yes, you build a story with a ton of gaps. Your mind plays connect-the-dots. It does it on autopilot. You fill in the gaps with guesses. With only a few data points, imagination does most of the work. If I gave you fifty details, there would be no mystery. No mystery means no curiosity.
Build The Mystery
As you tell your story, maintain your mystery until the end. End your story with a surprise. We love surprises. It generates those feel good chemicals we all love.
Once the mystery closes, curiosity dissolves. With curiosity satisfied, they have no reason to stick around.
When Mystery Works
This strategy works well to bring people into your world. It works well to sell an idea. It also works well to entertain. Entertainment plays a role in almost all writing.
Avoid this strategy when you want to communicate definite information. In some cases, you need to minimize the chance of faulty assumptions.
Let’s wrap up with a simple process you can follow to create your own curiosity message:
- Begin with the end in mind. How do you want to surprise your audience? They should assume an ending different from yours.
- Think of three details that point your audience to a desired conclusion (your surprise).
- Maintain the surprise until the very end. Add a few more details to solidify their assumption. It makes the surprise more enjoyable.