Friday, April 15, 2011

Grabbing Readers And Hanging On

Authors use all kinds of phrase that means the same thing. Grab the reader, hook the reader, create a page-turner, or write a keeper. Obviously all of these phrase mean an author wants to engage readers to the point that they can’t put down the book and once it’s finished, they can’t let it go. They put in on their bookshelves, often not loaning them to anyone, in case the borrower doesn’t return them. Writing a Keeper is what each author wants to do.

So then, the question is how do you write a book that grabs the reader and hangs on? A book is a keeper, first, when the story relates to the reader’s experiences. When they can say, I’ve been there, I’ve done that, I’ve felt that. Next, the book is a Keeper when the reader relates so well to the characters he wants to continue reading their story. I’ve received many letters from readers, and hopefully you have to, when they ask if I’m going to continue the story in another book. I’ve even had a reader write and ask me if Annie and Ken ever had a baby and how was Grandma Ellie’s health now. These were all story characters. I laugh but then I am flattered that the reader loves and remembers these characters as real.

Writing a Keeper means you will need to analyze your novel by story elements and ask yourself questions. The story premise or theme is the first, followed by characters, plot, and setting. Here are some thing to ask yourself.

Premise, Theme, or Message
• Is your premise realistic and yet special? Have you added a twist or a surprise?
• Does the theme or message tug at the readers emotions? If a reader laughs or cries you’re on the right track to a keeper novel.
• Is the message or theme strong and meaningful? Does your novel tackle realistic problems and issues that people face in their own lives? Does the resolution make a significant difference in the lives of the main characters?
• Does the theme or message cause readers to relive times of their own lives or offer them experiences they’ve always wanted but have never experienced.
Identify the main theme or message in your novel and review it against these questions. If you find a weak area, ask yourself what you can do to make it more meaningful and realistic

• Do your main character reflect real life people not stereotypes? Do they have admirable qualities as well as flaws?
• Are they vulnerable—showing weaknesses common to others? Are they strong despite their vulnerability?
• Do they have goals that are significant and important to others as well as themselves.
• Are their motivations realistic? Did you create a past with their strength and weaknesses documented by life experiences and their upbringing? Family, friends, talents?
• Are the character’s realistic and consistent in their emotional and psychological attributes?
• Do the characters have realistic fears and phobias that are their nemesis?
• Are these qualities your reader can relate to?

• Are the character’s goals and motivation clear and meaningful to readers? Is this something to which readers can relate?
• Are the character’s behaviors and attitudes psychological realistic and are the story problems real?
• Does the story open in a dynamic way that grips the reader from page one?
• Is backstory used to build characterization but not plopped in the first pages of the story?
• Does the plot allow the reader to participate—to speculate, to cheer, to warn?
• Does the story keep moving with good pacing—a few slower moments for readers to digest what’s happening and then moves ahead with dynamic action?
• Does the plot reinforce the theme or message of the story?

Story Setting
• Why did you chose this setting? How can it be used to add deeper meaning to your story?
• Does the setting enhance the plot?
• Does the setting create nuances in the characterization—added stress, feelings of home or loss?
• Does the description bring the setting to life?
• Do the setting aspects relate to the story’s mood, heighten emotion, and serve a purpose beyond offering a sense of place?

If you can answer these questions with positive answers, wonderful. If you find that you need to make changes, then do so. The more realistic and compelling these four elements of your story, you will create a page-turner, a book that grips the reader and one they want to keep.


Martha Ramirez said...

This is a great post, Gail! Thanks so much. Lots of great questions.

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