What is it exactly that attracts readers?
Well-developed characters? An exciting plot? A thoroughly imagined world? Maybe - but when you really look at these things, they don’t answer the question. What do we mean by ‘well-developed’? How precisely is something made ‘exciting’? What’s the difference between ‘thoroughly imagined’ and just ‘imagined’?
To really understand how to attract readers, we have to understand what is being attracted and how that is being done.
There’s a force which attracts us to things in Life. You feel hungry, you are attracted to food; you feel thirsty, you need a drink; you feel cold, you reach for clothes; you need love, you embrace a partner. This force is so commonplace, so much a part of our lives that we take it for granted, like gravity or magnetism. It’s the same thing with stories: you turn the page of a novel because of this force, you read to the end of a tale because of it, you fall in love with characters because of it.
Oddly enough, you even pick up a book from a bookshelf to buy it before you know any of the characters, because of this force. In my book How Stories Really Work, I call this ‘vacuum power’ and break it down almost mechanically into four separate strands. These components work together to attract a reader to a story, to make that reader keep turning the pages, to glue the reader to each and every scene, to compel the reader to engage with what is happening in the story on deeper levels, and to drive the reader forward to the story’s resolution. The four components produce momentum, mystery, meaning and in the end work together to give the reader a sense of fulfilment. If they are lacking in a piece of work, the reader usually
a) bypasses the book altogether and walks away, or even if he or she picks up the book,
b) drifts off before the story gets going
c) does not feel gripped and engaged, and considers what they are reading to be ‘shallow’
d) never makes it to the end.
We don’t see many examples of all these negative things in stories because those stories just don’t make it onto our shelves. In fact, if a story lacks this force to that degree, the writer even struggles to finish it. But add even a small part of one of the components of vacuum power and interest perks up: attention is caught, engagement occurs, forward motion begins. The only works of fiction that we ever usually see are those which contain a high enough amount of vacuum power to get completed by the writer and to attract enough readers for them to be published and sold.
On the surface, what you’re looking at in any piece of successful fiction is four questions which continually recur:
‘What will happen next?’
‘What’s really going on?’
‘What is the right choice here?’
‘What is this story really all about?’
But how to put these things together to create ‘well-developed’ characters, ‘exciting’ plots, and ‘thoroughly imagined’ worlds? You’ll need to get my book.
Why are Shakespeare’s characters considered to be ‘well-developed’? The book examines Macbeth in great detail to find out.
Why are the Marvel movies exciting? The book takes apart Captain America; The Winter Soldier piece by piece so that you can see the four components at work.
How do comedies work? What makes a tale a tragedy and how do stories get even darker than that? It’s all there - plus much more, which I hope to talk about with you soon.
Master authors through the centuries like Chaucer, Dickens, Tolstoy, Hemingway and so on, right up until present day writers like Joss Whedon or J. J. Abrams have used these components, often unknowingly, to fill their stories with vacuum power and to attract readers until their works survive the test of time.
You can learn how to do so as well.
Read more about How Stories Really Work here.