Pull Your Reader into Someplace Real

Saturday, March 26, 2016
Whether you are writing historic fiction or science fiction, pulling your reader into the world of your story boils down to creating a world and story that feel real to your reader.  Succeed at creating this reality and the reader will fall into your story.  Fail and the reader might not make it to page 5. 

Here are four things that you can do to create the sense of reality your reader needs.

Details make the setting.  The first step in making your world real to the reader is to create a world they can sense.  It isn’t enough for them to see it.  As much as possible it has to engage all senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, hearing, touch, and motion). This means that each manuscript page needs to include details that involve at least three of senses. That’s sounds like a lot but it is doable when you learn to take your descriptions beyond the obvious.  We know snow is cold, but how does it sound? How does summer heat smell? Choose things your character would notice and weave them into the story.

Make the culture real. This is vital for any story, historic, contemporary or science fiction, that takes place outside of the world of your reader. In book club, we read Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone, set in the poverty rich hollows of the Missouri Ozarks in 2006.  These people, the majority of whom cook meth, police their own based on a complicated set of rules and morays.  In spite of the differences between this world and our own, Woodrell made the culture make sense even if it was still horrifying.

Common Goals make for a Common Experience. Another way for your reader to identify with the story is to give your character a goal the reader will recognize. It could be to see history made or to do something you’ve been told you will never accomplish (The Race for Paris by Meg Wait Clayton).  Perhaps the character wants nothing more than to clear his name (Storm Front by Jim Butcher).  Giving your character a goal that is familiar to your reader will help pull the reader into the life of the character.

Connect through Character Emotions.  None of us who read Winter’s Bone know that life, but we could connect with it through the main character’s emotions – fear and desperation at the thought of her family losing their home. The same will hold true for your story. Your characters and their lives may be unfamiliar to your reader, but the emotions that they feel are emotions that people have felt in every culture and every time. Use these emotions as another way to help your reader connect.

It doesn’t matter if your story is set one street over from where your reader lives or in the Amazon ca 2027. Pulling your reader in involves helping them connect with your story both through the setting and the characters. Learn to do it and don’t let go.

Sue is the instructor for our course, Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins on June 6, 2016.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Sue--Thanks for this post. It comes at just the right time. Soon--in the next month or so--I will be going over the most recent draft of my manuscript, the "three senses per page" is something I'm going to specifically look for.


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