How to Keep Readers Engaged

Readers like to read about two types of things:

1: Things they can relate to.

2: Things that excite them.

Most of us writers know this, because we ourselves read. Trying to write without ever reading is like trying to eat a cone without ice cream. It’s completely illogical. (Unless you’re a crazy person who doesn’t like ice cream.) So, when we read books by those more experienced than us, we can learn from them.

This is step one. Notice how more popular writers got to where they are. They probably didn’t write about how to walk a dog, yes? Take Percy Jackson and the Heroes of Olympus, for example. Readers are enthralled by the constant action, and the relatable characters. Readers enjoy Annabeth because they are bookworms. Readers like Percy because they have ADHD, or have issues at school, or because he’s just the most awesome character ever created.

So, one way to keep your readers engaged is to have engaging characters. Add little pieces of their personality throughout the story. Maybe your characters go to a pizza restaurant and one of them eats salad instead, because he’s lactose intolerant. Maybe your characters decide to climb a tree, but one stays down because she can’t stand the feeling of sap on her hands. The more quirks and relatable human struggles your characters have, the more your readers will love them. 

Say you’ve already done that. You have amazing characters, but you don’t have a plot to put them into.

Ugh. I hate it when that happens.

Really, the way out is simple, (for you. Your readers will most likely develop a love/hate relationship with you. Remember, this is a good thing.)

Make the lives of your characters as miserable as possible. 

No, I am not heartless or insane (most of the time). This is a real tool to keep your readers engaged.

If your characters just escaped the jaws of death, have them go back in. This creates a lot of great emotional conflict.

Ex: If your character just escaped prison, where they were held captive for something they didn’t do, have them find out that a war broke out while they were gone.

If a girl finds out that her mother has been killed, have it be her sister who did it.

The worse the situation is, the more thrilling the escape will be. If your character is stuck inside a metal box floating on lava, the box is slowly melting, and then the character sees their home town burning from a distance, the reader:

A: won’t put the book down

B: will be dying to know what will happen.

So basically, if your character has a problem, keep making it worse and worse until it can’t possibly go any further, and then have them make a plan to fix it. 

This is the most effective tool for fantasy/action/adventure writers, or, basically, all fiction writers who are making their own plot lines. (So not as much for historical fiction and non fiction, etc.)

But a novel needs to be balanced, and at least partially based on fact, to be engaging. Even if your setting is completely fictional, you have to have some relatable elements, even if they happen to be very mundane things.

Sometimes, it’s a great idea to put a “normal” scene in between two action scenes. This establishes a bond between your character and your reader, because readers relate to things they’ve done. Then, when your character is endangered, your readers will care about the outcome 10x more.

For example: If your characters just escaped from another world where they were held hostage by blue opera-loving unicorns, have them go to Starbucks and get coffee. Readers can relate to this experience; and doing something as mundane as that after something so abnormal can also be humorous. That’s usually a plus for me.

Another variation of this idea is really helpful for fantasy, especially.

If your character(s) has an abnormal ability, (ex: he/she can fly, can read minds, has super strength,) the typical response is for the character to use that ability against the villain. This is a theme in most fantasy books. It’s not a bad thing; but, as writers, we have the ability to make as much or as little out of a character’s abilities as possible.

I’ll explain that. If you have a gift for drawing, you’re not going to draw only flowers for the rest of your life. You’re going to experiment, and do as much with your gift as you can.

Same thing for writers. We have the “supernatural power” tool in our toolbox. We can choose what we use it for.

As mentioned before, writers usually use it to kill the villain.

I like to use it for mundane things, because it creates lots of opportunities for humor and bonding between characters. So if a character has the ability to make the ground beneath someone’s feet boil, I like to use it to scare away the mean schoolboys who try to pelt the little girl’s cat with rocks.

Do not try that at home. Your parents would probably kill me.

One last tool is to remember that your characters are human. (Unless they’re not.) Most guys aren’t handsome, strong, talented, and smart. Not all girls have perfect hair and winning speech. Not all heroes succeed every time. Give your characters flaws, small ones or big ones, it’s up to you. Have the hero fail sometimes. This is just one more tool to making your reader love your character as much as you do.

So, to sum it up in five sentences:

1: Give your reader human struggles, and quirks. Readers will relate to them, and establish a bond with your character. 

2: Your character’s lives should never be easy, unless you’re about to drop the bomb and tell them that there’s a prophecy identifying them as the destroyer of the world and they have to run for their life. (BWAHAHAHA!!!)

3: Switch it up. Have your character get the bad guy, but have them fail sometimes too.

4: Use the abnormal abilities for normal things. 

5: Have fun. Don’t throw anything out the window if you get stuck. It’s all a part of being a human, and more specifically, a writer. Keep your head up. You’ve got a story to tell. Don’t ever let writer’s block stop you from telling it. 

What are some things you guys do to keep your readers engaged? I’d love to hear from you. I hope this helped get those creative juices flowing. (Ew. That sounds kinda gross. Oh well.)

Don’t give up.

~Izze

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Izze

Izze

I'm a freshman in high school, and just finished my novel, "Meant to Rise," six months ago. I'm finished with the first draft of book 2, and currently working towards publication for book 1. Writing makes me ridiculously excited. Much joy and all that. I'm excited to share the love.

4 thoughts on “How to Keep Readers Engaged

  1. “Make the lives of your characters as miserable as possible.” Don’t worry girl, we’re all careless and insane here. On the bright side though, that’s the best quality of being a writer. Jk…but great post, and great point! Definitely agree with #1!

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