How can novel writers compel the reader to care about the story? First, a novel must answer the question, “What does this character want, what are the obstacles and what will said character do to overcome obstacles and obtain the goal?” Another answer that readers demand is, “Why should I care?”
Writing Tip for Today: Making a reader care requires a combination of an intriguing story line, a compelling author voice and an interesting character to follow. The caring part usually comes from presenting a worthy goal or high stakes that fuel curiosity. Curiosity turns pages. How can you keep the reader engaged so this page turning occurs?
- Present a Worthy Character. Novelists employ “strong characters” for a reason–they feel worth the reader’s time. Many a novel flounders when a writer attempts to make a reader care about a weak character. The reasoning usually is something like, “My character starts out weak but ends up stronger than she ever thought she could be.” Sometimes this works–I’ll concede that Mr. Magoo or Daffy Duck are underdogs who never get it right. And Underdog! But we usually see past a bumbling exterior and glimpse a strength beneath. A really weak character can’t act and that won’t fly with a reader. Even if he is Underdog.
- Present a Worthy Goal. Readers of this blog have heard me rant about “high stakes.” If the goal is only a kinda sorta type of thing, the reader may not consider it worth his/her time. Raise the stakes by imposing a time limit (think K Mart’s Blue Light Special), increasing the consequences for a missed goal, or best of all, tie an emotional issue to the goal. If the reader can have strong opinions about the character’s goal, then it’s personal and most readers will want to find out what happens next.
- Present a Worthy Opponent. Novelists often stumble by creating obstacles that are too easy, too obscure or with not enough required of the POV character. Major problems for the character must be solved by the character with as little help from outside as possible. No deus ex machina (the cavalry or Underdog arrives to save the day), no shrinking from the burning house. Most of all, no vague goals with even more nebulous enemies, such as a character’s mid-life crisis where the enemy is oneself. This type of set-up requires very high skills to pull off well. Give your character a worthy opponent that the reader can follow.