5 Tricks to Keep a Modern Reader Interested

modern readerI can’t count the amount of indie books I’ve started but haven’t finished.  I read everything on Kindle now save a few of my favorites like those in my Tolkien collection (I have all hard-bound editions of those).  If I want to figure out whether I want to read a new book, I download a sample from Amazon and then if I can get interested in the first few pages, I’ll stick with it through the sample, and then if I can read the entire sample and want more, I buy the book.

The thing is, most readers today are reading on phones or Kindles or iPads.  It’s not just the young.  My mother is in her 70’s and reads all of her books on her iPad…and she’s an avid reader.

So how can a modern writer write their novel so that it has that un-put-downable quality that forces the reader to finish what they sampled?  I’ve thought up a few tricks to get you started, tricks that I see modern writers using, because the all-important hook is needed more than ever in this age of Netflix and video games that will hopefully ensure that the browser becomes the buyer.

  1. The Chapter One Short Story – This idea came from the frustration of writing the first chapter of my latest work-in-progress.  I struggled to write a really good first chapter because I knew that it can be a make-it-or-break-it factor with a potential reader.  I hit on the idea that if my first chapter began and ended with strong conflict, where the rich backstory was hinted at, and it followed the classic rising action/climax/falling action/denouement, then it may keep the reader interested enough to want to find out what happens next.  I also used trick #2 at the end by making the reader think the main character had died.
  2. End With Cliffhangers – Modern readers are used to this tactic, and they love it.  Every television show and book series ends with a perilous cliffhanger that forces the reader to read on or watch the next episode to see what happens to these characters that they have fallen in love with (see #3).  But you are writing a sweeping romance novel!  What to do?  End the chapter leaving the main character in the lurch between two lovers.  It doesn’t have to be a cliffhanger that ends with the possible death of a major character.  It just has to be an ending that forces the reader to read on, and this makes you have to become very creative.
  3. Characters Must Be Likable – This doesn’t mean that the character has to be a goodie-good.  Darryl Dixon is definitely a criminal at heart, but he has a good natured side that wants to be noble.  Make your reader fall in love with your characters.  If they do this, they will care about the peril that they are placed in and then identify with the peril, making that peril feel like the reader is experiencing it.  They won’t care about #2 if they don’t care about the characters you have created.
  4. Cut Out All the Boring Stuff – If you have been to any recent writing workshops or seminars, one buzzphrase that always comes up is “cut out anything that doesn’t drive the story forward”.  This can’t be more true for current readers.  The days of long expositions about backstory and describing every detail are over…at least for now.  Most of the best-selling stuff I read is filled with tons of dialogue that reveals aspects of the story without much diatribe and excess.  My current WIP is written in third-person singular and jumps from one difficult situation to the next.  I don’t leave the reader any time to breathe or wander off.  My purpose is to force the reader not to be able to put my book down…or power it down.
  5. Turn the Trope – One big discussion I often see on the topic of media is the overused tropes in today’s fiction.  There is an entire website devoted to tracking them.  The thing to do is to make your novel interesting, and to do that you can’t be the next person writing the vampire romance novel.  Find out what tropes your plot is re-hashing and then turn those tropes on their head.  Re-invent them.  Take an old one that hasn’t been beat to death and recast it with different situations or different settings.  Right now there are thousands of zombie novels being written because of The Walking Dead, and many of them seem to be writing the same plots used on that show.  Do it different, do it fresh, and you will ensure that a modern reader will want to read more.

Ok, indie writers!  What are some other methods that you have used to keep the modern reader interested?  Post them below in the comments.

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

12 thoughts on “5 Tricks to Keep a Modern Reader Interested

  1. I love the idea of treating your first chapter like a short story. One of the problems I see a lot is when the first chapter reads more like a plot summary of an entire book.

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