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Monday, May 4, 2009

Why Should the Reader Care About Your Story?

On Thursday I talked about the importance of the Story Question: the question that the reader or viewer wants answered, and so eagerly devours your story. The Story Question is something that can be unequivocally answered yes or no by the end of the story: WILL Taylor be able to convince Kristen to marry him? WILL Donna be able to realize her dream of being a rock star? Will the X-Thumpers be able to save their home world Terranthia from the invading evil aliens? Your protagonist will actively pursue this story goal, encounter many obstacles, bravely fight, learn something about him- or herself, and ultimately triumph (or not, although failure stories don't tend to be popular unless there is a compensatory win -- think Rocky).

Once you have a good story question you're almost there: you only need to make the reader CARE about whether the story question is answered. To do this, you simply have to make the reader care about the protagonist, and therefore since the protagonist cares about the story question the reader or viewer will also.

OK, so how do you make someone care about your protagonist? The quick answer is not necessarily to make him likeable, but instead to make him someone with whom the reader or viewer can identify with to understand why he does what he does in the story. There are several techniques you as the writer can use:

1. Create Sympathy -- if your protagonist suffers from something, whether an injustice, a physical defect, or a terrible loss of some sort, this will go a long way to create reader identification because the reader will feel sorry for him and therefore of course want him to win.

2. Jeopardy -- any time a character is in real danger, whether physical or emotional threat, the audience is riveted.

3. Likeable -- we all tend to want to be around pleasant rather than unpleasant people, and this is no different in stories. The person may behave well, or be funny, or be good at his job, or whatever -- he has likeable traits that the viewer can appreciate.

Another thing to remember is that a story question (which at the beginning can be a bridging question rather than the main one), and the protagonist, need to be established in your story as early as possible. Your audience needs to know who to root for, and what they're rooting for -- otherwise your story is irrelevant drivel that your audience will only have so much patience to plow through before throwing your book down in disgust. (Unless, of course, your reader is being forced to read this for a literature course in High School, but if this is the case you as the writer are probably dead now anyway :-)

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