Have you ever opened up an article just to be bored in the first few sentences? Maybe you clicked because the title was catchy but quickly found out the article didn’t deliver what it promised.
What about a book? Did the first few pages drone on before anything exciting happened? At what point did you just put it down?
As writers, this is our worst nightmare (or maybe the best if your intentions were to clickbait people, but let’s assume you’re not that person). When we put our writing into the world, we want to connect with our audience and keep readers’ attention for the entire piece. We want to deliver value. We never want readers to step away from our work before we’ve said what we want to say.
That’s why we practice our craft. We test new methods of delivering our message and we try out new stories. Our purpose is to deliver value in some form so it’s our duty to keep the reader around so we can do that.
If you want to write better stories — the ones that keep readers turning to the next page — you have to give substance to your writing. Here are three ways to develop your craft and write the next greatest piece.
Give the reader a reason to continue
Think about your audience. If you use the first ten pages to describe a world or set up description, you might lose the YA reader. However, if you’re writing fantasy and all of a sudden you drop your character in a world they don’t understand or use words you’ve made up, you’re going to lose your reader.
You have to give them a reason to continue. Give them a reason to lose track of time and stay up until 3 AM to finish reading.
It doesn’t just happen within the first few pages. Each sentence must make the reader want to continue. Each chapter or scene ending must make the reader want more.
Make promises in the beginning that your reader wants to know the answers to. In each subsequent chapter or paragraph, give just enough of an answer to partially satisfy the reader but make them keep reading for more. Hold their attention with action and description and character interactions.
Pay attention to pace
If your readers signed up for a descriptive novel, by all means you should drag that detail out for every penny it’s worth.
Understand the type of genre you’re writing. Get familiar with how fast and slow you should follow action or fight scenes or dialogue. Be aware of the passage of time and how long you’re making the reader wait to see the promises delivered.
Pace is how you keep readers engaged. Pace is what makes readers lose track of time. Pace can make or break believability in your story.
When pace is broken, you can snap readers out of their trance and make them lose interest. If a fight scene between a skilled villain and your weak protagonist is just a few sentences in when your protagonist wins, you better have a good reason or your reader is going to be annoyed (and a good reason is NOT a deus ex machina).
Pace is believability in a story.
Play with emotions and senses
My favorite books are the ones that make me feel with the characters. I get so engrossed between having a reason to continue and pace that I feel every emotion the characters are experienced.
Know your characters’ personalities. Make their actions and emotions believable in the current situation. Tug at their heartstrings and show their struggles. Use those emotions to connect with readers who might be in the same situation.
Even more than just letting them feel, the best writing touches on all the senses. It’s more than just a character feeling happy as she sits in a meadow. She’s happy because she can feel the grass tickle her legs and the flowers dance in the wind or the water quench her thirst. Or maybe he’s disgusted because sand is rough and coarse and gets everywhere.
Use the senses to manipulate the emotions of your characters and your reader. They are simple tools to help build believability and keep the reader interested in more.
As a fiction writer, I am constantly looking to develop these things in my own writing. You can join me on that journey and get access to a short story that is the premise to a new book series I’m working on. I’m sharing inside looks at the full time creative life and what I’m developing.