Fear of putting your writing out there is not your issue. You’re writing and publishing. You’re even selling a good number of books and seeing moderate success as a writer. But are you failing your readers in the process?
A surprising number of published authors are not engaging their audiences. What happens when the readers aren’t engaged? They put your book down and never pick it up again.
If you’re writing just to write, that’s fine. In that case, it doesn't matter if anybody ever reads your book all the way through, but if you’re like most authors, you write because you have something to say and you want to be heard. If people don’t actually read your books, you're not really living your dream. Here are five ways you fail to engage your readers and what you can do about it.
Failure to set the scene. Part of the writer’s job is to set the scene for the reader. You can’t assume that the reader knows what Philly felt like in 1982. If you do, you leave your story floating in the air. It may as well be happening in out of space. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series was so successful, in part, because she built an entire world for her readers. Diagon Alley was as much a character in the books as Hermione and Hagrid. You may not need to build an entire world for your story, but you should evoke the time and place, not just with street names but also with how the scene looks and feels, to give your readers a sense of time and place. How are people dressed? Are the streets clean or dirty? Are there lots of cops patrolling or is the setting manicured lawns and swimming pools? Describe the setting to make the time and place come alive for your readers.
Failure to create distinct voices. If all of your characters sound the same, you haven’t fully developed your characters. Just listen to people around you. They may use certain phrases that are common to your area of town or your part of the country, but everybody has a distinct way of speaking. Everyone has a unique speech pattern. If all of your characters sound the same, you need to spend more time developing the distinct communications style for each of your major characters. To help develop distinct voices, try writing scenes from different characters’ points of view to get a sense of how each of them would describe the same situation.
Failure to describe characters. Describing characters as looking like some famous person isn’t really a description. First, you’re assuming that we know who that famous person is and what they look like. Second, you’re copping out on the hard work of describing your character. Even if your lead female does favor Alicia Keyes, you should be able to describe her. Maybe she has fair skin and long sexy braids that framed her face and drew attention down to a tiny waist gently curving into full hips that made a man want to grab hold and never let go. Develop a full character sketch including how she looks, what she likes, and dislikes, her style of clothing, and her birthday. Take the time to think about all the details about your main characters incorporate them throughout the chapter as you introduce them to us.
Failure to share emotion. Telling us that your character feels a certain way is neither interesting nor entertaining. We want to feel the anger and passion. Instead of saying that the character spoke in a low, angry tone, perhaps she spoke deliberately, seeming to weigh each word, all the while opening and closing her right fist as though trying to convince herself not to punch the woman in her pinched-looking face. Think about ways you can convey characters’ emotions without simply telling us that he or she feels a certain way.
Failure to show what’s happening. Telling what’s going on instead of showing is a quick way to lose our interest. If two people are talking, don’t tell us they had a conversation. Take us into the conversation. Let us hear their voices and their words. Dialog should be artfully used to convey information and to move the action forward. Converting a scene to dialog is a great way to help you determine whether or not a scene is relevant to the plot. If the conversation doesn’t do either of these things, the scene probably isn’t needed anyway. Whenever you see paragraph after paragraph of exposition, try converting it to dialog.
These are not deadly sins so don’t worry if you see yourself failing your readers in any of these areas. We are all learning and developing as writers. In fact, that’s the beauty of this craft. We get to grow every single day. Keep writing, keep learning, and keep striving to be the best writer you can be. I’ll be with you on the journey.
Comments? Questions? Let’s talk.
Develop a more satisfying book for your readers.