Three Ways to Keep Your Readers Reading

I’m coming down on the last few scenes of my work-in-progress, A Sky without Stars. As much as I struggle to be sure the period details ring true (it’s set in 1951 Arizona), my bigger problem is in writing a satisfying ending to the story.
Writing Tip for Today: Writers often agonize over details, doing hours of research in order to get it right. But the bigger question should be: Am I driving the story forward, forcing the reader to keep reading? Here are some ways to keep your readers reading:

  • Feet to the Flames. A novel does need short periods of relief, but overall you need to be sure that you keep the pressure on. In every scene, ask yourself what the problem is for your POV character. If you can’t name it, your character probably needs a bigger challenge. The idea of rising action becomes more and more intense up to the climax scene where your character is forced to act. Don’t let your character out of this crucible of problems until very near the end, and make sure your lead character solves the main problem herself.
  • Chapter Endings. Pay attention to the way in which a chapter ends. Are the hero/heroine enjoying a relaxed moment? You may want to rewrite and end the chapter just before the character feels satisfied. Keep your reader questioning what will happen next.
  • Action and Emotions. Steven King says the way to a reader’s heart is through the emotions. As long as you concentrate on providing action or movement with high emotion, your reader will be much more likely to remain engaged. Readers want these two elements more than any others. This may mean that you will limit long passages of description, dialogue with few consequences and that you watch for back story that takes the reader out of a scene (see the cold mashed potatoes rule).

Your Turn: What is the most difficult thing your character faces? Could you make the stakes higher? I’d love to hear from you.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

6 comments on “Three Ways to Keep Your Readers Reading

  1. Great advice! However, my biggest hurdle is reality. Don’t laugh, but I find it really hard to write a scene, or a whole story for that matter, when my internal editor scoffs at me. “No sane person would act like that and you want your readers to go along with this ridiculous action and plot?”
    So, it does take some chair time to get this right.

    • Carla, Just remember, your characters don’t necessarily have to be sane. ๐Ÿ™‚ I think it helps to become a great people watcher–to see how people resapond in different situations. You do a fabulous job, so tell that editor to get back in her cage. ~Linda

    • Danielle: Really happy characters are hard to write about–they need problems, problems, problems. Just like real people. Don’t allow your character to talk her way out of the crucible until the climax scene. Feet to the Flames! Thanks for commenting. ~Linda

  2. Hello ๐Ÿ˜€ my main character has a lot of probs, she’s a fashion journo who hates fashion, she doesn’t ‘get‘ it and it’s a great source of frustration for her , her boyfriend is a cheating rat, her boss is a nightmare, and her friends are always putting pressure on her to do stuff she doesn’t want to. …after risking it all for the adventure of a life time, she meets a new guy who turns out to be anything but what he says he is, and he draws her into a word of darkness and danger…that’s as far as I got:D hope that’s enough probs ๐Ÿ˜€ love ur blog btw, thanks for ur advice ๐Ÿ˜€

  3. Hi Chazalou! So glad you find the tips helpful. Your character certainly does have her hands full! Remember that at the climax, your heroine must act to overcome these awful things. How/why/when she does this will inform the problems on how they ought to unfold. Keep writing! ~Linda

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *