Keeping Readers Engaged Throughout Your Novel

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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.




How to Create an Interesting Villain for Your Stories

villain-001It seems like I spend so much time thinking about the good guys when I write my fiction that I sometimes forget the bad guy needs love too, so to speak. Since plot lines revolve around conflict there has to be a source behind that conflict, and that would be the antagonist, more commonly known as the villain.

There are different approaches to creating a good villain. One way is to have him or her truly evil and completely irredeemable, sort of like a Count Dracula. Your readers will hate him and root for the good guys to wipe him out. That would be the sort of villain you can kill off at the end of the story, and your readers will leave feeling relieved and satisfied.

A more complex, and interesting, approach would be to create a “conflicted” villain. Instead of a purely evil Count Dracula, you could create a villain more like Barnabas Collins, the reluctant vampire of Dark Shadows fame. Barnabas had been a good guy until the vampire curse was placed upon him. Once that happened, he was left despising what he had become. He both hates, and deeply regrets, all the things he’s had to do along the way in order to survive. Thus he becomes a “hero-villain;” an antagonist whom the audience could root for, because they too wanted to see him cured of his affliction and end up with the girl, be it Maggie, Vicki, or his true love, Josette. In the interim, they sure get to see him wreak a lot of havoc.

Some storytellers like to take chances by having their protagonist, or hero, go bad. That can be a tricky approach. If you’re going to attempt it you need to have a character with plenty of redeeming qualities, otherwise your readers won’t be able to make a connection and they will not root for him or her. By the end of the story he or she will have to renounce all the bad things they had done earlier, and as well as be willing to do whatever has to done to make up for the sins of the past. If not, your readers will not be satisfied with the ending, assuming they stayed with your story until the end.

Another way to conclude your story would be to end a tragedy with tragedy, especially if your hero-villain has done some really nasty things in the past that he or she really can’t walk away from. At the very end of the Star Wars saga Darth Vader renounces the emperor and turns away from the dark side of the force, but in so doing he has to sacrifice his own life in order to save Luke. It certainly made for a dramatic, and satisfying, end of the conflict.

So there you have it. With a little imagination, and a few character quirks, you can create develop interesting and memorable villains who can keep your readers engaged. And that’s what good storytelling is all about.




“Fan” Fiction and Copyrighted Characters–Treading on Thin Ice

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I had an interesting chat with another author at the recent Wild Wild Western Convention. He told me about a writer who apparently got into a some serious trouble with Paramount over some “fan fiction” he had written about Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. The story went that the writer had written a very adult Star Trek story, and Paramount had taken issue with the way their copyrighted characters had been used.

I remember when I was a teenager, Star Trek fan fiction was very popular, and, as I seem to recall, one of the reasons why Star Trek conventions started up in the first place was so the fans, or “Trekkies,” as they called themselves at the time, could share their fan stories. Of course, back then times were different. Authors wrote their fan fiction in conventional paper notebooks, so very few people probably ever read them. Traditional publishing, be it a book or magazine, was the only option at that time, so permission would have had to been obtained from the copyright holder before any fan fiction could be published. There was no Internet, no blogs, no self-publishing, and no eBooks.

Times have indeed changed, so it’s probably very tempting for the amateur writer of today to write his or her own Star Trek story in a blog or to post it on a fan forum. And while their motive may be one of sincerely paying homage to their favorite television show, their devotion could, potentially, get them into some very serious legal hot water. While I’m not an attorney and not purporting to be giving legal advice, it’s pretty much common knowledge that the legal rights to any artistic creation, including works of fiction, belong to the person who created it, or to a third party who may have purchased the rights from the original creator, and that would include rights to the characters as well as to the story.

Most of us who write fiction probably model our characters on people we know, or perhaps we base them on other fictional characters. Either way we do it, our characters should be very loosely modeled with plenty of other characteristics to make them unique. If Captain Kirk is your inspiration, then give your character a different age, background, physical description, or even change the race, ethnicity or gender. Above all else, be sure he, or she, has a completely different name. But if you really have your heart set on writing a Star Trek story, or of using other copyrighted characters, make sure you get permission first. Even if you’re not writing your story for monetary gain, it could still be considered copyright infringement.

My tip for the day,