Keeping Readers Engaged Throughout Your Novel

Photo by canstockphoto.com

The other day one of my Facebook friends wrote a post about her disappointment with a novel she was reading. It had gotten off to a great start, but she lost her interest in the middle, and she wasn’t sure if she should continue reading it or not. Keeping readers engaged can be a challenge, and, as her post proved, the best hook is useless if your novel becomes slow and boring.

Pacing is an important part of good storytelling, but excessive back stories, boring or redundant dialog, or trivial details can slow your pace to a crawl and bore the reader. So, how do you keep the middle of your story interesting? Here are a few suggestions that may help.

Backstories should only be revealed on a need to know basis. I only include backstory which is relevant and necessary to move the story forward, and I’ll typically reveal it through dialog. However, most of my backstory remains in my notes.

If it’s been said once it usually won’t need to be repeated.¬†Your character has told another character that his mother died in a car crash. He doesn’t need to repeat himself. Should circumstances warrant it to come up again, try to say it in the narrative. An example might be, “as she rounded the corner and hit the accelerator, he reminded her of what had happened to his mother.” In this instance, a fast-paced narrative would have been ruined if redundant dialog had been inserted. Should it be necessary for him to tell his story to a different character, consider adding a spin. Maybe his mother was driving drunk, but he hasn’t revealed that detail until now. Otherwise try to paraphrase it in the narrative, and consider adding some emotion. “His heart wrenched as he once again described his mother’s death.”

Fine details aren’t always useful information. Readers usually won’t care if your character is wearing a blue dress or a green dress, so unless that dress gets caught on something as she’s trying to escape you don’t need to spend time describing it. Detailed descriptions are only necessary when they enhance the story. For example, “She soon spotted the perfect dress. Royal blue with lace trim to show off the diamond pendant Jake had given her.” Boom. That’s all the reader needs to know. Leave the rest of the details to their imagination, and move on.

I think of each chapter¬†as an episode to move the plot forward. It should reveal a character’s motives, or emotions, or something new about the character(s) that we didn’t know before. And if a chapter, or even a scene, doesn’t enhance the overall story I’ll delete it. Each chapter should have a purpose. If it doesn’t, then it’s just filler material which will bore the reader, and he or she may end up tossing your book aside without finishing it.

GM