Happy Monday everyone! I know that it has been a while since I have posted some writing tips and I really want to get back to it so here are some ways that we, as writers of the universe, can help to pique our reader’s curiosity and then hold their attention. By no means is this a definitive list, just a few short ways that are sure to get the ball rolling. As always, I try to give practical tips that you can work on in whatever stage you are in the writing process. Sadly, these tips won’t work for poetry but will be helpful for prose, drama writing and screenwriting.
Backstory is the meat of your plot. It is the hearty part, the place where it all begins. But don’t think that all backstory has to be given in a prologue or through narrative in the first two chapters. We may not find out why a character is doing something until the tail end of a book but it is important for you as the writer to keep that backstory in mind as you write so that the tale stays true and believable. When we do get that backstory we want to say, “Now it makes more sense.” or “I can understand but they are going a little overboard.” What we don’t want to say is, “That doesn’t work. What about when this happened?” Let’s think of The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly. We don’t understand who the king is until the story is almost over but things that have already taken place begin to line up and it makes sense, adding to the story instead of taking away from it.
Make Your Characters Interesting From The Moment We Meet Them
You don’t have to introduce all your main characters in the first chapter. You don’t have to introduce them until halfway through the book if you so choose but in order to reel your reader in, your characters have to be interesting even if we only get a glimpse of them at first. Show us a quirk, tell us about the way they speak or how they look. It is your job as the writer to make your reader curious enough to flip the page and flip it again in again. Even if we don’t like your characters, we should want to know more about them, their motivations, how far they’ll go to get what they want or if they even truly want what they are searching for. You have to give us something to enthrall us enough to say “Hey, this might be interesting.” And sometimes that comes with the first line of dialogue or even the setting of where a character is, get us wondering why they are there.
One reason people enjoy reading so much is because of the worldbuilding. We like imagining and transporting ourselves into the setting of the book. We want to feel as though we are there and the way to help a reader get there is worldbuilding. That doesn’t mean tell us everything about your setting in the first chapter but it does mean we should at least have some idea of where and when we are. If it’s a fantasy, give us clues into what the world looks like, its biases and mannerisms. We want to know the struggles your character is facing and the basis for that comes in how you lay your setting out for us. When there is a lack of proper worldbuilding, the readers feel distanced from the story even if it’s about a real event. It’s not as interesting and we aren’t as invested.
Conflict has to more than your protagonist deciding who they want to talk to or how to find a better paying job. Conflict is about the way it impacts the characters and how those characters in turn, influence the world around them. That being said, no one enjoys a character that is all about reaction. We want your character to act, motivated by some strong guiding force or belief and that is what adds to the conflict. Why does your character believe this and who disagrees? What do they need to overcome before they can reach their goal? Give us a reason to root for them!
There has to be more than one mission, one goal. If that is all the reader gets, they’ll feel cheated because they spent time and built relationships with your characters just as you have but don’t really get any payoff at the end. You don’t have to introduce every conflict at the same time but they should be building as you progress through your work. Let’s take We Hunt The Flame by Hafsah Faizal for example. The first conflict we get is the Hunter wondering how he is going to feed his family but with every new chapter we are asked a new question and the conflicts compound and even though not all of them were answered by the final page, enough of them were that we feel content yet curious enough to be ready to pick up the sequel when it is released. Think of your favorite book, how many conflicts can you think of offhand? Now imagine if there was only one. Would it be as interesting? Probably not.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good cliffhanger but when your work has more than one conflict (as it should) don’t leave us wondering what happened at the end of the book. If there is a big battle scene, give us the end of the scene and let us know who the winner is even if the battle isn’t the end of the war. Remember, frustrated readers aren’t happy readers. There has to be some sort of reason for us to pick up the sequel (if you have one) and that usually comes with a cliffhanger or two but we don’t want to feel as though we just wasted hours of our life. Do you think that everything should be resolved at the end of the work or are you someone who believes that the more cliffhangers there are, the better? Let me know in the comments. I’m curious and I enjoy hearing from you all.
Thank you so much for stopping by. Have any other tips and tricks on how to engage a reader? Leave them down below in the comments. I hope you are a part of my bookish family! If you aren’t make sure to follow this blog and feel free to friend me on Goodreads and check me out on Instagram as well!