Last week I offered you a list of the 10+ things I learned at the 2011 RWA Conference. One item in particular, the six magic words, interested many readers. So much so that you tweeted, reposted, left comments and wanted to know what those magic words are.
Susan Elizabeth Phillips did an entire workshop on the Six Magic Words that lead to publishing success… keep the reader in the story! Just how do you invite our reader into our world? And, more importantly, keep them there?
We want to grab our reader’s attention from the beginning and keep them reading until the end and possibly beyond. Have you ever read a book and dreaded finishing because you would have to leave the characters behind? I know I’ve read books like that and those are the types of books I want to write.
Here are a few tips I’ve gathered from a number of authorities some from workshops, on line classes, blogs, critique partners, and my editor.
- Hook Them
A narrative hook is a literary technique that gets, and keeps, the reader’s attention. You want to keep the reader wondering what the consequences of the action will be. Placed strategically, the opening or the end of a scene or chapter, it keeps the reader wanting more. Isn’t that what you want?
“I’ve heard Lord Walling has depraved appetites in the bedroom.”
From Tina Gabrielle’s - The Perfect Scandal
- Keep Narrative to a Minimum
I’ve read novels with pages and pages of narrative. No action. No dialogue. The story just goes on with pages of description that’s not very exciting. While there is a place for passages like this, they should be kept to a minimum.
My example here would be the first draft of the opening of my book. I naively opened with a lengthy description of forest. Go ahead and giggle. It was pretty much “… a dark and stormy day…” Cris Anson, Anne Walradt and Lisa Verge Higgins had all they could do to not laughing. It still opens in a forest, but only a few sentences, rather than pages, describe it. It goes right into a fight scene. Thank you ladies!
- Back up Dialogue with Gestures and Movements
Dialogue without any activity is boring. Gestures and movements adds color to the story and characters. What are your characters doing? What are they holding? How are they gesturing? This helps the reader visualize the scene and gets them involved in it.
Words crowded to the tip of her tongue, but they made no sense. She drained the cup in one long, desperate gulp, hoping to clear her befuddled mind. “Galactic Standard.”” Both hands curled around the empty cup in her lap. “We’re speaking the Galactic Standard.”
From Angela Knight’s - Warrior
- Involve All the Senses
Readers want to escape, they want to experience what the characters experience. That includes all aspects of the scene. Not just one sense, but as many as possible. The more sensory perception you build into your story the richer the experience, the more involved the reader.
The air was crisp and ripe with the scents of battle. The metallic odor of blood wafted in the morning fog. The smell of the dead and the living intermingled to create an aroma that can only come after fierce warfare. Whoops and hollers echoed across the fields from the victorious men. Groans of pain drifted in the wind.From Eliza Knight’s - A Lady’s Charade
- Use Action Words
Verbs energize. An action verb generates more drama and emotion than a noun, adjective or adverb of similar meaning. Use vivid verbs, powerful verbs, to ignite the action, paint word-pictures, and evoke feelings in your readers. Use verbs that show the activity and serve to paint that vivid memorable picture in the reader's mind about what is occurring in the story.
I should not have stayed away from the Manor so long. Something stirs. Lord Arik’s eyes swept the surrounding area as he and his three riders escorted the wagon with the old tinker and the woman. They sped through the forest as fast as the rain slicked trail would allow. Unable to shake the ominous feeling that someone watched them, Arik remained alert. At length, the horses winded, he slowed the pace as they neared the Stone River.
From Ruth A. Casie’s - Knight of Runes
- Well rounded characters
The main characters in your story should be as well rounded as possible. Avoid using "stock characters" that are predictable and un-interesting. If a reader can predict what a character is going to do throughout the story, then the character is too flat and needs some rounding out. Characters move the plot, they make things interesting, and, above all, it’s with whom readers identify. To do all that, it is vital that writers create living, breathing story people. From protagonist to sidekick to villain to the minor characters who round out your story, writers must imagine and illustrate people with a variety of traits and features, and if you don’t differentiate well, the story won’t work.
It comes down to show don’t tell. Telling communicates facts while showing invites understanding. Telling your reader the facts does not make the experience theirs. Having them live the story, showing them how to live the story, makes it a part of them they will never forget. Isn’t that what good storytelling is all about?
These are in no way the only ways to keep your reader in your story. Please share your ideas with me, examples if you like. I would love to grow this list.