Thursday, April 18, 2013

FIRST PRIORITY: Make the Reader Care

I read an interesting article from a successful writer who is also a slush-pile reader. The details were interesting (and very in-depth), but there were two high points for me that underlined things I'd heard from my agent, and from friends who are interns for agents:

1. Slush-pile readers want to like your story. In fact, as they open up that first page, they're hopeful they're about to read something amazing. Unfortunately, in most cases, that hope drops (slowly, or quickly, depending on the manuscript) as the read doesn't fulfill expectations.

Moral of the story: Slush-pile readers are your best chance for finding an advocate, if your story is up to par.

2. The most common reason for a slush-pile reader not enjoying a story was simple: They didn't care. Either the writing wasn't skillful enough to place them firmly in the skin of the protagonist, so they never felt grounded in the story; or, as the pages flipped, they kept getting distracted from the story by the growing realization didn't matter to them.

Moral of the story: The very first priority for your opening pages is to answer these questions: Who is the character, what is he / she doing that's important, and why should the reader care about it?

You can study the craft, expand your vocabulary, and eradicate adverbs until your fingers bleed, but if the reader doesn't care about your protagonist and doesn't care about your story, you aren't getting anywhere.

So, how do you make the reader care?

Give them a person they can relate to and a threat to life, love, or eternal happiness. That's it.

That's building block numero uno.

Simple, right?

*Maniacal laughter ensues*

Your Turn: What makes you care about a character or story right from the start?


  1. Two really good points!

    I care about a character if I can see why they need the journey they're about to embark on. For me the plot at the character arc have to be woven together so that both work together to get me to the end.

    Perhaps it's about using irony to send this particular person on this particular journey.

  2. Many of the most popular stories today (and really throughout the history of fiction writing) are not particularly well written. What they do, however, is draw the reader into the life/lives of real, living, breathing character(s). Once that is accomplished, the actual quality of the prose is of less importance.