Zzzzz-don’t let your reader fall asleep #AtoZChallenge

ZToday is the last day of the A to Z blogging challenge. Whew! I hope you have enjoyed the last 25 days of blog posts. And to wrap up our challenge with the letter Z, I have decided to write about what you don’t want to hear from your readers. Zzzzzzz. Yep – that is right. You don’t want them to fall asleep while reading!

reading asleepMany times advice is given about the beginning of your book and the fact that you need to make it interesting and draw the reader in. And this is so true. No one wants to spend the first 50 pages trying to get into the book. Some readers won’t make it past the first few lines or the first page if they aren’t intrigued.

I have already written before about the opening scenes of your novel but here are a few tips.

  • Don’t begin with dialogue. We don’t know who is speaking or why we should care.
  • Don’t start with a dream sequence. No one wants to read something only to find out it didn’t really happen. If you do use a dream (and I did in my first book Summoned), then make it obvious to the reader that they are reading a dream sequence.
  • Don’t overwhelm the reader with too much information. And don’t include too much back story into the beginning. Start with a pivotal moment in your character’s life.
  • Don’t go overboard with descriptive prose. Stick with some sort of action.

But beyond the opening scene, after you have already hooked the reader, you need them to stick around to the conclusion of your story.

So what keeps readers reading?

  • Characters that they like, care for or can relate to. Or they can perhaps not like the character but be intrigued enough to want to keep reading.
  • Varying the scenes also helps. You can’t have every scene riddled with tension or action. You need to vary the pace of the story and keep the reader guessing as to what comes next.

Some things that can turn off readers…

  • Poor grammar is always a turnoff. And I am not talking a few mistakes here. Books riddled with bad grammar are what give independent author a bad name.
  • Mismatched tone to the genre. If you promise a light-hearted romantic romp, then that is what you need to deliver.
  • Flat, one-dimensional characters are another big turnoff. Characters need flaws. They need to feel real. They must have problems.
  • Too many characters are also a problem. The reader will struggle to remember who everyone is and what they are doing. Especially if they are introduced at the beginning, the reader won’t know who is important.

Remember that you are competing with not just other books on the market, but all the other things such as movies, TV, the Internet, or even just enjoying being outside that clamor for reader attention. And once you hook your reader you need to keep them enthralled.

For other tips and things to look out for, check out this post.

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3 thoughts on “Zzzzz-don’t let your reader fall asleep #AtoZChallenge

  1. Julia Matthews says:

    Great post this month.

  2. I’ve seen a few novels begin with dialogue and have it work, but it is uncommon. (The only one I can think of, off the top of my head, is Barbara Hambly’s fantasy novel, Dog Wizard, and the one line of dialogue is followed by a few paragraphs of narration.)

    “Poor grammar is always a turnoff. And I am not talking a few mistakes here. Books riddled with bad grammar are what give independent authors a bad name.”

    Bad grammar is a turnoff, and so is bad punctuation. (My current pet peeve is lack of commas in compound sentences. Someone out there must be pushing the ‘remove any punctuation that isn’t absolutely necessary’ advice way too far.) A wonderfully inventive plot and fascinating, relatable characters don’t do much good if the reader can’t FIND the plot and characters under all the wonky writing.

    I enjoy stories with a lot of characters, but I agree, introducing them all at once means the reader doesn’t know which ones are important and which are just walk-ons.

  3. slfinnell says:

    If only I’d had you guys around in English Comp 1! And yes I just went back and corrected my non-capitalization at the beginning of my sentence.

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