Whether or not you have good ideas and working characters, the trick underlying everything is to be able to attract readers.
This is a much more mechanical process than you might think.
There are very definite and precise mechanisms used by successful fiction writers to pull in reader attention. By answering the following questions we can take a quick look and see if you are on the right track.
1. Is your writing effectively bringing in droves of readers?
If you have reached the stage of showing other readers your work, and if they like it a lot and want more, you have obviously hit upon something. But are you sure you know what it is? Are readers hooked in by effective characters? Are they driven through the story by a well-constructed plot? Do they feel ‘glued’ to your story all the way until the end? Does the story engage them on meaningful levels?
2. Are you attracting lots of readers?
Same question, really. Except that you might be experiencing the phenomenon whereby readers arrive to read your work and then leave without finishing. It’s not enough to attract them - you have to retain them to be truly successful. Fortunately, a specific tool exists to ‘glue’ readers to the page.
3. Do you feel that trying to attract readers is a waste of time?
Perhaps you think that all this is too mechanical? You may want to simply write ‘straight from your heart’ and not worry about readers. There’s nothing wrong with that at all: probably 90% of writers do this as a matter of course. Creative writing exercises usually encourage it. If you have managed to conquer Life’s obstacles and get some writing done, you can generate as many pages of this kind of thing as you wish. It’s happening all over the world, right now: page after page of creative writing, pouring out onto paper or screens in an inestimable flow of wordage.
However, if having someone read what you are writing - and read it perhaps with me interest or enthusiasm - is important to you, you will have to communicate in a language that they can understand. That’s the secret language of fiction. It needs to be learned in the same way that you learned how to read and write.
The good news is that you already know most of it because you’re a reader yourself.
4. Have you got an active way of attracting readers and holding their attention effectively?
The ‘glue’ that holds readers’ attention operates on several levels, ranging from the overall structure and nature of the work to the word-by-word movement across the page. How Stories Really Work and the e-course How to Write Stories That Work - and Get Them Published! go into this in some detail. Without it, you may well draw readers in but will probably fail to retain them, as outlined above.
5. Are you troubled by a loss of readers?
As just mentioned, readers who are initially attracted to a work of fiction but then drift away, perhaps not finishing it or not returning to it once complete, have been disappointed in some way. There is no arcane magic here: they simply ‘bounced off’ the text (or play or film). The distinct force used in successful works of fiction to stick attention right to the end of a story was not present. Does your work have that force?
6. Do you feel that your story could be more targeted to a particular audience?
‘Readers’ is a broad term. There are several billion potential readers on the planet, but obviously only a small proportion of them are a possible audience for your work. Knowing who that audience is and being able to make adjustments so as to make the most of that knowledge is a key to succeeding as a fiction writer.
7. Do you understand your readers?
Following on from # 6, working out who your particular audience is - or audiences, as you may have more than one distinct group your work appeals to - can help you to attract them. Imagine a small group of people gathered in your home to listen to you read from your latest book. Who are those people? What are they like? What is it about your story that appeals to them? Why do they remain enthralled to the end?
8. Are you spending enough time on looking at things from the reader’s point of view?
This doesn’t mean that you are writing fiction entirely to satisfy someone else, or just ‘pressing buttons’ on a machine designed to produce the same response from readers every time. Far from it.
Your true creativity and energy can be released only when you have sufficient mastery of the tools you are using to create certain effects.
To accomplish that level of mastery, you need an understanding of where the story is going - to the reader.
A reader’s point of view includes your own point of view as a reader.
What attracts you when you are reading or watching fiction? What key moments have you experienced in stories? Have you ever attending a play that has haunted you for a long time afterwards? Have you ever emerged from a movie theatre exhilarated by what you’ve just seen? These kinds of effects have exact dimensions and precise engineering; they can be learned and replicated.
9. Do you have an effective set of characters?
Most readers expect to recognise, mainly subconsciously, a set of characters in any given work of fiction: not just a protagonist and an antagonist, but a series of ‘types’ which fall into place and produce an alchemy all their own. This doesn’t mean trotting out stereotypical figures to ‘tick a box’ with readers: it means using this expectation imaginatively and even beautifully so that readers feel their attention has been rewarded.
10. Are you always worried about attracting readers?
An anxiety about whether or not anyone will like your work is usually based on a lack of confidence about the above factors.
Like a chef who needs to have a command of ingredients and how they work together, a fiction writer has a set of components which can either produce a work full of attractive power or a distasteful mess.