Creating a Story that Pulls the Reader In

Sunday, July 30, 2017
Recently I read a blog post about successful fiction. The author’s claim was that all successful books are mysteries because there is a question the main character needs to answer.

I’m currently reading Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk. In this middle grade historic fiction, Crow wants to know who her people were, where she came from, and why the people on the Elizabeth Islands are afraid of her. Those are big questions and this book definitely pulled me in.

Before that I read a piece of adult nonfiction, Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. Grann organized his book in three sections, each answering a different question. Was someone systematically killing wealthy Osage? Who? And how far reaching was it? Like Wolk, Grann presented the reader with big important questions and pulled me in.

Big questions do work to pull readers in. But I hesitate to say they are the only way to do it.

Some stories pull readers in because the character’s survival is in question. In a sense, that’s what Grann did in Killers of the Flower Moon. I wanted to know if the FBI would find the killer before he got to Mollie Burkhart. This “will she survive” technique is used in any story where a killer is stalking the streets and the main character could be next. Survival is also up for grabs in stories that pit the main character against nature and also in war stories. In the nonfiction title Unbroken, Leo Zamperini must survive first in a deteriorating life boat and then in a Japanese POW camp.

Other stories employ romance to pull readers in. Will the couple get together and live happily ever after? Or will they at least have a rollicking good weekend? I have to admit that I’m not a romance novel fan but give me a book with a romantic subplot and I’m there. Even spy novels such as those written by Suzanne Brockmann include romantic subplots. I keep turning the pages because as much as I want the hero and heroine to save the city or the nation, I want them to end up together too.

Another great way to pull readers in is with humor. Bill Nye (the Science Guy) and Gregory Mone did this in the middle grade series Jack and the Geniuses. In the first book, At the Bottom of the World, the characters have to survive an Antarctic adventure and also rescue a missing scientist. They are also working around a wide variety of inventions including a nose vacuum, bionic leg extensions, and anti-stink socks. It is middle school humor at its finest but it works for me too. What can I say? Sometimes I think I’m a 12 year-old boy at heart.

Great stories pull readers in. Some do it by asking big philosophical questions. Others tell stories of survival or romance. Still others keep readers laughing. Some of them even manage to do more than one of these things at a time.

A successful story? It keeps readers reading. That means different things for different writers and different readers. The key is finding what works for your story and doing it well.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins August 14th. 


Sioux Roslawski said...

Sue--In the middle of reading your post, a question I need to put at the beginning of my WIP occurred to me. Thanks for the nudge. (It's funny how that works. We read something that somehow touches us--on the edge of ourselves--and a realization bumps into us.)

Again, thank you. This post came at a perfect time.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I'm glad it helped! You never know what is going to nudge you, and your writing, in the right direction.

Mary Horner said...

Your post is a great reminder about keeping the big picture in mind as we write. Thanks for sharing this!

Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top