A couple weeks ago a writer friend and I met at a local pub; the discussion inevitably gravitated to the craft. Several topics were discussed—favorite books and authors, syntax and word choice, story openings—and the discussion turned to the reader’s investment, reminding me of my responsibility as a writer.
When a reader picks up a short story, but especially a novel, they bring with them an expectation; readers want to be entertained and/or informed, the latter more inclined toward non-fiction. As writers, giving the reader what they desire requires gaining their interest and holding that interest until the end of the work. Readers demand this, often subconsciously, making it imperative we supply what they seek.
I allow a novel about fifty pages to entice me to read further. If not compelled—whether by plot, language skill, but foremost by character—I return the book to the shelf and choose another. I understand the effort and heart-flaying required to write a novel, yet the flaw of reader-disconnect cannot be over-stated.
So, What Draws Me Forward?
- The character, one I can relate to with motivations I understand.
- Plot, though to a lesser degree.
- The writer’s skill and use of language.
- A quick opening is crucial, and must yank me into the created world in the first paragraph, better yet the first sentence.
- Mystery and questions propelling me to find the answers.
What Stops Me From Continuing?
- An ineffective two-dimensional character.
- A slow, slug-along plot.
- Flagrant grammatical errors.
- A rambling opening cluttered with backfill and the writer’s inability to get on with the story. The “past-loaded” beginning is a common mistake I see in many self-published novels on Kindle and Amazon.
- Lack of mystery: no mystery = no interest. A simple item to fix. How is the protagonist going to solve their problem often suffices, but the resolution must be logical and within the boundaries of the created world.
How To Solve?
- The protagonist has a clear-cut problem, thus a goal, and because of a character flaw, roadblocks are thrust in his/her path, forcing them to fight their way to a resolution.
- In novels, the plot consists of the complicated and often convoluted journey the protagonist travels, overcoming obstacles in increasing difficulty until they reach their goal, or not. In order to keep the reader’s interest through the investment of an entire novel, sub-plots involving lesser characters are weaved throughout the story’s fabric, those that always impact the protagonist. Subplots add levels of complexity, as in real life.
- As a writer, it is our responsibility to learn the craft. Educated grammar usage is mandatory, regardless of there [sic] tale.
- Get to the story. If backfill is required, use it as one would a spice, sprinkled at the appropriate time to enhance the flavor of the story or character. Long paragraphs of backfill are called “info dumps” for a reason–don’t do it, or the reader may throw your effort in the trash.
- All stories need some degree of mystery. Introduce characters and events that cause questions only answered later. Ideally, several mysteries will be woven through a novel, some more important than others. Don’t forget to answer the questions, making sure the important ones harbor no hazy “you figure it out for yourselves” ideology. I hate that, in movies and novels alike. Say what you have to say, or don’t say it at all. Open-ended stories show a lack of skill by the writer to determine a conclusion, or are the writer’s appeal to please everyone. In either case, ambiguous endings fail.
Writing and creating is a thinking person’s game; keep the reader at the forefront of your thoughts when you create, and you will be rewarded.
See you on the next page,