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Because I teach writing, I also read about writing and how good writers do what they do. I'd like to share with you one thing I have learned about writing:
Make connections to your audience.
It seems that this is the one trick most successful writers know how to do. They know how to connect the story to their audience in such a way that the story stays with the reader for a very long time.
The Fault in Our Stars
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Oh. My. Goodness. Now here is an example of a book that connected to its readers! John Green did a fantastic job of creating characters that Y.A. readers fell in love with. I enjoyed the book because of the quirky characters, the dialogue, and also the types of conflict in the story. Because I have a teenage son, the story connected with my heart immediately.
And because there is teenage angst, I suppose that's why millions of Y.A. readers also connected with the story! Either way, the book is a huge success because it connected to the audience.
It's the same with the Harry Potter books. Once millions of children connected to Harry and his situation, once they began to visualize the world J.K. Rowling created, and once readers began to try and predict what would happen next...well, Rowling successfully connected to her readers in a way that has yet to be toppled by another children's book series.
For me, I wanted to write a book that connected to my audience. I wanted to make my readers turn the page looking for more...wondering what's going to happen next...and I especially wanted my readers to try and predict the ending!
We want our stories to activate life experience or background knowledge in the minds of our readers even before they open the book. Your cover and back cover blurb should trigger a reader's prior knowledge and life experience. Why? That's what draws them into the story. That's what makes them visualize the setting, characters, and conflict in their minds. Next, we want them to make inferences while they read. Make them try and figure out the symbolism, imagery, similes, and metaphors you've put inside your story line. This figurative language is what intrigues readers.
In The Children Under the Ice, the title alone caused my readers to try and predict what happens in the story before they even opened the book. Once they begin to question what comes next, once they begin to try and make predictions...that's when you've got them hooked!
For me, if a book doesn't grab me by chapter three, I'm done. I put it down and never pick it up again. If a book loses me by chapter ten, it means the connection to the story is gone. I'm no longer predicting. I'm no longer questioning...I'm done. That's what happened to me with Redeeming Love, the classic Christian novel by Francine Rivers.
I stopped caring for the main characters when I was half way through the book. I didn't like the female protagonist and I didn't really care for the male protagonist. I found the story a bit redundant. Once I stopped questioning, once I stopped trying to predict what would happen next, that's when I knew I was done with the book. I put it down and haven't picked it up again.
So, that's the lesson I learned: Make that connection to your readers. Keep them questioning as they read. Make them visualize your story inside their heads. Cause them to want to predict what will happen next. Most importantly, cause your readers to connect your story to their own life experiences.
Connection is key to story success! Once your readers connect, they will love your story forever. And they will want to read your next book, too!
Your turn: What book grabbed you from the start? How do you make those connections to your readers?
You can read more about Ruth A. Douthitt at www.thedragonforest.com