Making the Reader Care
Your story will tell the journey of at least one important character, and your reader will embark on that journey with them. And although your character does not have the choice of abandoning that journey, your reader does, so you have to ensure that the thought never crosses their mind. So what sort of things do you have to do to ensure your reader always turns the pages?
- Make every word, sentence and scene worth the space – everything in your story should contribute to the story in one way or another. It should teach us something new about the plot or the mystery or the character or the emotions or the future. If you tell us your character has slipped on a wet floor and now has to stay home sick and expect us to care, the most we’ll feel is a bit of pity. That’s not good. If you tell us the character has slipped on a wet floor, has been told to stay at home for a week, but promised his wife and son, who he doesn’t live with, to attend his first basketball match, then we’ll feel sorrow. We’ll be upset, frustrated and want to know what happens next. Don’t waste words on back story, and don’t use words to fill up space. Add twists and turns, ups and downs, (temporary triumph and reversals), and keep us interested.
- Character relationships – now this can relate to two things: the relationship the reader has with the character, and the relationship the character has with other characters. Both are very important. Once your reader builds a rapport with a character, has gone through a few dips and moments of glee with your protagonist, then we’ll start to care more. It’s natural. With an acquaintance, we might only feel a little sad if they lost a competition, if it was our best friend, we’d feel their pain as they are feeling it. Read ‘Creating Compelling Characters‘ to read how to make your reader care about your main character.Now onto your character’s relationships with others. When enemies turn to friends, and friends turn to enemies, the reader is shocked, the reader is concerned, the reader wants to see a development. This works especially well with a new love interest. Of course, don’t just add a new date for the sake of it, as I said, make every word count, and similarly, make every character count, but adding sub-plots for secondary characters allows your reader to relate to a wider range of characters and add more depth to your story.
- End each chapter with a bang or a feeling of resonance – The writer that I feel delivers in this every single time is psychological thriller author, Sophie Hannah. Her chapters either end with a new riddle, a new clue, a hooking piece of dialogue, an unexpected person at the doorstep – just always something to make me think, “What? Tell me NOW!” It works really well for mystery novels, as Sophie Hannah demonstrates, but for other genres, you may also want to try ending with a note that fulfils your character’s own inner journey to add development.