Sunday, 24 August 2014

How to Make Readers Care About Your Story


It’s an age-old question. How do you make your readers care about your story?
It’s the ultimate goal for writers, to make their readers care enough about the story and characters, because that is what makes them read your book and continue reading right until the end.
There isn’t a straight forward answer for this one simply because there is so much involved in the process and lots for a writer to consider.
It’s not really about the story, per se, because the story can be about anything, and so it becomes a secondary thing, but it’s how the writer uses the characters within the story that makes us care about what happens and therefore it makes us care about the overall story. We want the characters to reach their goal, we want them to win the day, we want them to succeed, and that’s because we care about what happens to them.
How do we care?
Firstly, you should write the story for the reader, not yourself. This is vitally important. It is not your story. So many writers still write with the attitude of ‘why should I care about what the readers think?’
They should care, because the story belongs to your main character, and ultimately, to your reader. If you write without the reader in mind, you will fail to engage them and your story will fail. You are writing for them.
So what else can writers do to make readers care?
Writers need to create something known as immediacy, right from the opening chapter, in order to persuade the reader to invest emotionally with the story, so jumping straight into a life changing moment for the main character, or creating a terrible dilemma to introduce the basis of the story always works well.
Immediacy is what connects the story and characters to the reader. In other words, readers want a main character they can sympathise with, feel emotion towards; ordinary people who are thrust into extraordinary situations. They are not special; they are just like you and me.
But the difference lies in the journey they take, the overall story, and what happens to them. And to achieve that we have conflict.  All writers should understand the fundamental principle of conflict and how it works.
Characters + conflict = tension and drama.
Without conflict, there is no tension or drama or action. That means there is no story to tell. And readers love drama.
Conflict creates all sorts of tensions and atmosphere, it creates dramatic situations and that means the reader will want to know what happens to the main character, so conflict in the form of an antagonist and plenty of dilemmas help to draw emotion from your reader, it makes them sympathise and empathise with the character’s struggles. They become emotionally attached to your characters. And that means they care.
The other thing to consider is: what is at stake for the main character?  What will they lose? How would it affect them and the story? Will the protagonist lose someone they love? Will they lose a fortune? Will they lose their house? Their job?
The higher the stakes, the more chance your reader will care about what happens and these issues will lure the reader into the story because they will read on to see what happens. They have to know what happens.
How will your characters overcome such high stakes? Will they compromise, will they sacrifice something, will they do something momentous? Will they change as a person?
Think about it – we all have something to lose. So should your characters. And that’s what makes us care – because the characters, too, care about what happens.
Another important thing that makes the reader care about the story is the characters you create. They have to be likeable, almost real, people. As already mentioned, they should be people we can connect with because they are ordinary; they have faults and flaws, and they make mistakes, just like us, but they have been forced into a situation and how they tackle it and overcome it becomes theirs and our story.
A hero doesn’t have to be heroic to make the reader like them. They are human, and that makes them vulnerable. Such vulnerabilities make us connect to the character. What those vulnerabilities are is down to you as a writer.
One thing to remember: characters should never be perfect, because people in real life are not. There is no such thing as perfect.
Lastly, relatable themes help make the reader care, too. And that’s because readers face the same things in real life. We can relate to love or hate. We can relate to forgiveness, or lack of it. We can relate to death and life. We can relate to pain and loss. We can relate to justice and retribution. All these themes have touched the lives of pretty much everyone in some way or another, so the themes in your novel will help the reader connect to the story.
With all these aspects in place, you should have no problem is making the reader will care about your character’s story.
To summarise:

  • The story is for the reader, not the writer.
  • Create immediacy – connect with the reader.
  • Create conflict = tension and drama.
  • Make sure there are high stakes for your main character.
  • Create believable, likeable characters, people we can relate to, people who are not perfect, but people who have their own vulnerabilities.
  • Relatable themes help your reader connect with the story.

In essence, why should the reader care about your story? Because they’re the ones who will read in and enjoy it and come back for more, time after time.

Next week: How many characters in a story is too many?

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