In part 1 we looked at various ways to engage the reader with your writing, such as using conflict, emotions, hooking the reader and vivid descriptions etc. There are, of course, several more ways to a writer can keep the reader hooked, aspects which writers are not always familiar with, or never utilise. So let’s look at some more.
Tease and tantalise the reader at every opportunity. Readers love to second guess things. They love to try to figure out who the real bad guy is, or “whodunit”, or figure out whether certain characters can be trusted. Readers also love to be teased and tantalised with the promise of things to come further in the story, or revelations that could shock and decisions that could have dramatic effects.
It’s the “what if” and “what happens next” that keeps the reader glued to the action. Never miss an opportunity to tease and tantalise.
Pacing is crucial. It’s what fools the reader into thinking that things are racing along with excitement and exhilaration and action, interspersed with quieter, slower moments. It’s obvious why action scenes – and faster pacing – engage the reader. Writing that is quick, dynamic, dramatic, tense or full of conflict form all the ingredients that keep the reader turning the page to find out what will happen next.
Pacing can create a sense of trepidation and excitement, so use it wisely.
A lot can be said about the level of characterisation. A character that the reader can relate to means they will connect with and care about that character throughout the story. Real, believable characters keep the reader engaged, because they often recognise such character traits within themselves.
Great characters have a combination of traits, flaws and behaviours that we all recognise. But most of all, make sure that the reader connects with your character emotionally. That is what will keep them engaged. Shared emotional experience.
Foreshadowing is another way to raise the level of interest for readers. It’s a way of showing the reader what’s in store, what’s to come, the things that could happen. It’s the “storm clouds” on the horizon way for writers to subconsciously plant ideas into the reader’s mind, without the reader actually realising; not at first anyway.
Writers use all manner of ways to foreshadow. It could be a black crow watching from the trees. This might foreshadow death the looms later in the story. It might be the cold brightness of a full moon that signifies an important event. It could be description of weather. It could be a description of a character being cruel to an animal, thus foreshadowing an even deadlier act later in the story.
Foreshadowing is often overlooked because writers don’t really understand it or they aren’t too sure how to show it. But it’s worth reading plenty of books to gain an insight how other authors approach it, if only to get a better insight on how it works to keep the reader engaged.
Themes – they bolster the underlying emotions on the surface and help the reader understand the motivations and actions of your main character. Every story has a theme or two. While they may not seem important, they are fundamental to engaging your reader, because your themes are the invisible life blood of your story.
Themes such as betrayal or revenge are very emotive, and most themes will provoke the reader, since they will undoubtedly have felt such feelings in their own lives and therefore they’ll create emotional connections.
Lastly, the story itself should make sense, be logical and believable. Any story that fails to make sense, isn’t that logical, is too hard to read or too over the top to be believable, won’t capture the reader’s interest. You can’t expect a reader to engage with the story if it’s poorly written.
The best way to engage the reader is to involve them at every opportunity by using everything at your disposal. Hooking them, maintaining their interest and their emotional involvement is the key to engaging your reader every time.
- Hook the reader
- Make the opening count
- Start the story in media res – the most vital point.
- Construct a water tight plot.
- Use captivating subplots
- Create conflict
- Use emotion
- Create tension
- Use vivid description, well written dialogue and informative narrative
- Tease and tantalise
- Use pacing
- Create believable, solid characters
- Create foreshadowing
- Use themes to bolster the story
- Make sure the story is logical and believable
Next week: Revealing character traits