Coax readers to eat your story’s veggies

If you want to impress readers, give them a cookie. A term coined by CSFW’s David Smith, a cookie is some item in the text that rewards readers paying close attention to the story.

A cookie might be a clever turn of phrase, a powerful descriptive image, or an allusion. While the cookie may not be necessary to the telling of the story (just as a cookie isn’t necessary to a meal), it does add to the tale by enriching it (sort of like desert after you’ve eaten your veggies).

This is unlike “card tricks in the dark” in which writers shows off their talent in a way that slows the story – such as a humorous scene that’s included solely for the sake of the writer demonstrating that he or she can write a humorous scene.

Cookies also are a little different than an Easter egg, which usually is a hidden reference to something, such as using a word from another language that means “villain” for the name of a hostile alien race in a science fiction story. If readers don’t catch the reference, it won’t hurt the story, and hiding the Easter egg is done is such a way that it doesn’t slow the story. Cookies are much more obvious.

Why add cookies to the story? Because they encourage readers to pay even more attention to the tale – just as cookies for dessert encourage kids to eat all their peas and carrots during the main course. Such readers, hopefully, will grow to appreciate the writer’s abilities and then pick up more of his or her books.

In fact, other writers’ cookies probably are the reason you came to like reading them and books in general. Lazy and less able readers tend to miss cookies and so don’t get why so many people like a specific writer or book.