Woohoo! You’ve found an agent, publisher, or learned to self-publish. That’s wonderful. Now brace yourself for a tougher test. Those accomplishments, while important, pale in contrast to the task of keeping readers engaged with your book.
A scene from the movie, “Crocodile Dundee,” comes to mind. I’ve posted it below (for educational purposes, of course).
This scene illustrates my point perfectly.
Interesting an agent or publisher isn’t scary when compared to reading reviews of your books. Learning to self-publish, if that’s your bent, is only the first battle. Ultimately, readers decide whether you’ll win or lose the long war for their attention. That fact might frighten or inspire you and me, possibly both.
I’m not sure why writers tend to forget about readers, because they are the ones with the power to make or break our careers. Writing success comes down to providing more books they can enjoy. Forget to engage readers with those books, and you might as well hang up your pen.
Keep Readers Engaged with Your Book
Do you recall your feelings the last time you read a novel that engaged you? Euphoria comes to mind. You might have overlooked some things. Who needs food, drink, or sleep anyway? You moved past interest and the suspension of disbelief into full commitment. The story world seemed more tangible than reality. You knew you’d suffer in the morning, but that seemed a small price to pay.
It’s amazing how words strung together can inspire such strong reactions. Not every book evokes this kind of response, but when it happens, it’s magic. Keeping readers this engaged with your books is one of the best goals to strive for in your writing.
Readers are on a journey through your story world. While your characters can go down rough roads, give the reader a smooth ride. While self-editing, I make sure of this. Here’s how.
Note: This is part one of a two-part post. Stop by next week for the second installment.
Minimize disruptions that would pull your reader away from the story, even for a second.
Relocate or eliminate exposition in a fight scene.
In real life, people in the middle of a fight aren’t going to stop for a bit of instrospection. They shouldn’t in my stories either.
Put actions in cause-effect order.
This avoids interrupting the flow by making readers do mental gymnastics with time.
Here’s an example:
Sentence 1: Sue picked up her book, forgotten while she wandered the paths of imagination, after Mr. Arnold glanced up with a scowl.
Sentence 2: Mr. Arnold glanced up with a scowl. Sue picked up her book, forgotten while she wandered the paths of imagination. It fell open in her hands, and she pretended to read.
Cut phrasing that slows fast-paced scenes.
Think of words as you would money. Your goal is to spend as little as possible to accomplish your goals.
Remove anything that might confuse readers.
This includes regionalisms, archaic language in a contemporary novel, modern-sounding lingo in a historical novel, references that most of your audience won’t understand, and unnecessary technical or historical details. Read through your story, aloud where necessary, to ensure that nothing leaves room for confusion.
Editing takes time and attention to detail, but it’s worth it in the end.
Keep All descriptions within the viewpoint character’s mindset.
When developing a scene, I keep in mind what my viewpoint character(s) would notice. When writing from a male perspective, I usually won’t mention eye color, for example. A man is not as likely as a woman, generally speaking, to notice eye color. I use this to advantage when writing a romance. The fact that a man notices a woman’s eye color becomes a mark of his attraction to her.
A police officer would observe things that a carpenter wouldn’t, and vice versa. A short person might notice another’s height or the steep stairs to the second-floor landing. An empathetic character is overwhelmed by the sadness of a passing stranger but can’t say afterwards what the other person was wearing.
Your viewpoint characters bring different perspectives to your scenes. Shape them to fit the story. What should stand out or remain hidden until you reveal it?
Let the story tell itself.
Don’t shoehorn anything into the story. If the plot veers off course, trust your gut reaction. If it feels right, follow where it leads, even when that doesn’t at first make sense. It’s amazing how well trusting yourself as a storyteller works.
If you need more guidance, read “How to Tell Subplots from Plot Bunnies.“
Final Thoughts from Janalyn
In case you wondered, I’m qualified to teach on this topic because reviews of my books receive comments like these:
“Manages to keep the reader glued to every twist and turn.” Library Journal on Hills of Nevermore (Montana Gold, book 1)
“Dawnsinger is one of those books that draws you in and won’t let go.” Tracy Krauss (Best-selling author) on DawnSinger (Tales of Faeraven, book 1)
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