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Grabbing the reader’s interest


The goal of a fiction writer is grabbing the reader’s interest, placing them inside our characters along with pulling them through the world we have created. 

    Write in scenes, showing rather than telling. Do not report that a character is afraid, happy, or grieving. Show the results of character emotions through the character’s actions. Show what fear, happiness or grief does to her. Character actions and responses are a good place to focus. This is a major key for rousing reader emotions. No one gets emotional over a report; do not make your characters dry. Your readers will get emotional when they can step into someone’s shoes and experience the characters feelings as if those feelings were churning inside them. If the reader can identify with a characters dreams, habits, and choices, they can also identify with the characters emotions, pains, joys, and sorrowsReaders can also identify with the shared human condition, so sometimes a particular situation will resonate with readers even before the character becomes involved. Make sure the reader knows, understands, and identifies with the character before trying to connect emotionally. The reader will not be affected by a character’s deep emotions on page one, simply because they have no ties to the character.  If you have put the reader in the character’s place in the story, what touches the character can touch the reader. By the novel’s climax, the reader should identify with the character’s pain making it the reader’s pain, her triumphs; become the reader’s triumphs. The reader may have a physical response, like laughter, tears or anger, as if whatever happened to the character had actually happened to the reader. A death reported on the news means nothing when it is a stranger but when it is someone you know it is devastating. Knowing how things play out in real life can help you make your character believable and sympathetic so the reader wants to be that character, the reader wants to go through everything the character goes through for the length of the story.

    Make a character unsympathetic, so the reader feels anger or repugnance toward her. A character who is hated has already created an emotional response in your reader. I am not talking stereotypes. I am talking about creating a character who has an evil soul, unfeeling, ugly in attitude, one who belongs in solely in one story. Your unsympathetic character might be no one of consequence in another book. However, here, in this particular story, her actions and words are destructive to your protagonist or to someone close to her. Cruel characters doing cruel things, cruel in the eyes of the protagonist or another character, can affect the reader profoundly. If the character reacts to the cruelty, the reader can as well. Alternatively, if the reader feels something because of what a cruel character does, you have already stirred your reader’s emotions. However, if your protagonist has no response to the cruel actions of another character, your readers may feel both bewildered and cheated leading to frustration. Show the reactions and response of characters to the actions of another character. Characters must do more than think about the evil of another character. They must have a response in terms of action and dialogue.  You want to reach the reader’s emotions, so do not hold back.  You need to write emotion-evoking scenes. Killing or injuring a character’s child, pet, or loved one can touch the reader, if the reader has sufficient investment in the character.

    Do not be afraid or hold back killing off someone close to your main characters or of taking away something else dear to them (kill your darlings). If they are crushed, heartbroken, or devastated the reader can be as well this is fiction; you are not hurting someone if you write a character into a death.  Death is not the only ways to hurt your character, have a character close to your protagonist have a devastating injury. Other ways of pulling to the emotional response of the reader is a misunderstanding, betrayal, and a forced choice that hurts the protagonist or her friends are all ways to agitate characters. In addition, when characters are agitated, readers can be as well. Tease the reader with hints of what is to come. You see this in romantic comedies, the backward and forward dance between a couple just falling in love. The tease, the delay, the anticipation makes the payoff dramatic and satisfying. In mysteries and suspense, anticipation increases tension and therefore increases the emotional impact. Fear drawn out to just the right degree gives a satisfying snap when all hell breaks loose. Recognize that word choice can greatly affect reader emotions. Some words are triggers in themselves, and can be used to set off the reader. Putting an especially nasty cuss word in the mouth of a character who does not curse can shock the reader. It is a strong signal that something is wrong. Do not jump into a scene without building it up first.

  Verbs or nouns that are socially loathed or that remind readers of hated people or abhorrent practices can be used to rouse the reader. You cannot use this technique too often because the reader will feel manipulated causing anger and frustration toward the writer, rather than with a character or the story. You can manipulate readers; but you should not let them feel the manipulation. Some words convey lightness, humor, or passion. Other words have little emotional shading. Choose your words with their impact in mind. Even common actions can be influenced by word choice. Do they demand or ask for something? Do they lift, haul, or pick up an object? Know the power of word choice in provoking emotions. Use words throughout a scene to express your exact meaning so a scene is cohesive and the emotion consistent. Do not mix light and fluffy words into a dark, heavy scene unless you are doing so for effect. Be aware of your word choices; take into consideration of what they can do to the scene and the tone of the story. Will they Increase tension because you choose the right word combinations or diffuse tensions because you have used ill-matched words. Even though you want the words to create a tight scene, one with cohesion and consistency, this does not mean that all characters in the scene will have the same agenda and speak to the same end. You may have a character at odds with what another character is doing or what is happening, your antagonist may not care that she has caused negative events in the protagonist’s life. She might not feel remorse or pain at what has happened.  Therefore, she may talk at cross-purposes with other characters. This, creates a tension all its own and can set the reader on edge.

   Create a situation that is important, vital, life altering, if not life threatening. Make sure there is something at stake for the character, make sure her actions reflect the importance of this something, and make sure she tries to do something to change this dilemma. Produce in the reader both the emotion from the situation and the hope that the character can triumph. Putting your characters under time constraints to increase tension will cause them to make decisions they might not ordinarily make, to set them, and the reader on edge. Force your character into making a decision between a bad choice and a worse choice. This kind of situation pulls the reader in whether she knows the reason for those bad choices or not. The reader feels for the character, for her having to make bad decisions that both character and reader know will cause even more problems.

    Move the story. Do not dwell so long on an event that the reader loses interest or the urgency. Write realistic scenes with realistic problems, that are conceivable for the characters and world you have created. Events, characters, and setting must be logical for your world. Do not give your reader a reason to doubt the truth and possibilities of your story and events. Do not give them a push out of your fictional world. Surprise the reader by turning the story in an unexpected direction. Keep the reader off balance, so he/she can be blindsided to feel more unsettling emotions. Write conflict into every scene. Conflict can be character-to-character, character to herself/herself, character to events, and character to setting. A stressed character can pass that stress on to the reader. Adjust the pace for the emotion you want to create. Use short sentences and paragraphs to speed the pace, to encourage suspense and fear. Readers read faster and feel the story is moving at a faster pace when there’s more white space on a page. Use longer phrases and paragraphs to slow the momentum, to ease off the forward rush, to create a sense of relaxation or calm. Choose words with deliberation. Use harsh words for the harsher emotions, soft-sounding and soft-meaning words for gentle emotions. Or, cross up your words and emotions to create confusion. However, remember that you want the reader confused in the same way the characters are confused, again if they are unable to follow what you are saying they will get frustrated. Reduce the use of unnecessary and unrelated detail to keep the focus on one emotion. Characters involved in chases do not notice the flowers, trees, other people on a street or homes decorated for a holiday. Lovers in their first sex scene do not notice every object in the room; they are far more interested in one another. Stay in the moment and only turn the reader’s attention to what is important for this moment and this scene and the characters involved. Do not dilute it or distract the reader with unrelated details. Use your details in other scenes, when it is appropriate to introduce. However, do use detail that will heighten the emotion. Use a setting that influences the reader and deepens his/ emotional responses. Give color to your rooms, put sounds in your indoor/outdoor spaces, and add smells. Imagine how these elements would influence your readers. Dark rooms, enclosed spaces, echoing spaces, wide-open fields, silence, a courtroom, or a bedroom of a lover. Play with setting so you put your characters in the best place for each scene. Need to ramp up unease? Move the scene to a deserted ally or building at night. Need something lighter than the bedside of a dying patient? Take the scene to the hospital’s courtyard or chapel.

   Use sense details to pull readers in the reality of the scene. What can the character hear and smell? What does a change in sound mean? What does the absence of sound mean for the character and the reader? When a character reaches into a dark hole and feels something that is rough making her/her break out in goose bumps? What if the character felt something soft and silky, does the reader’s pulse jump? Play with all five senses to keep your readers involved, maybe off balance, but always interested in what’s coming next.Use each of these methods, not just one, to raise an emotional response in your reader. Touch the reader often, noting that each scene doesn’t have to register higher on the emotional meter than the scene before. Though emotions do rise through the climax, the rate of the climb isn’t consistent and emotional impact can be variable; both character and readers need variations in intensity. Do not hesitate to mix emotions, use humor, lust, exasperation, anger, or joy to change the type of tension for the reader. Take the reader up and down and then up again. Readers like, the complexities of the ups and downs in situations and the emotions that follow, they do not like a flat line of no emotion, with no effect. Remember the more real you make things the deeper your readers will go into your story, and even though you write fiction, it does not mean you cannot make it all seem real, give your readers a story that satisfies on all levels. 

Give the reader something memorable, once you do that your reader will come back for more. 

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About T.A. Bratcher

T.A. Bratcher is the author of The Road Chosen with a few other books in the works. Learn more about her here and connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

Comments (2) -

  • Russ D.

    8/18/2015 12:19:07 PM | Reply

    Thanks, great stuff! Planning on going to the Inland NW Writers meeting tomorrow, and hope to see you there.

    • T.A.Bratcher

      8/18/2015 3:58:29 PM | Reply

      Thank you, Yes I will be there