Friday, December 17, 2010

Making Your Readers Feel Like They Are Part of the Story

Lately I've been having some very vivid dreams. You know the kind where you wake up and feel suspended between reality and the dream? Where you're not sure what's real and what isn't?

This can be a great thing or a bad thing, depending on the dream. But when you're talking about a story, it's ideal. I love losing myself in a story, not to emerge for hours, and realizing how much time has past and how immersed in the story I was.

It's a goal of many writers to not just invite their readers into their story, but let them plunge in headfirst. One of the best ways to make your reader feel like they are part of the story is by creating a sense of immediacy.

Here are a few ways to accomplish this:


A great way to get deeper into a character's pov and create a sense of immediacy is by allowing the character to ask questions.

For example, instead of -

Frank walked across the street and wondered what he was doing here and why he'd ever come back.

You can try -

Frank strolled into the street. What was he doing here? He'd promised himself he'd never come back...

Get Rid of the Passive

Stay away from passive words in sentences, like It was cold.

Try instead The cold nipped her cheeks.

This will give you more showing, not telling and allow for stronger, more engaging verbs.

Vary Sentence Structure

He walked toward the store and paused. He lifted his hand to shield his eyes from the sun. He dreaded what he saw.

Repetitive sentence structure can lull your reader into a boring rhythm that doesn't make them feel a part of the story. Try changing it up by varying the nouns and verbs in the sentence as well as experimenting with sentence length to keep the pace quick and more exciting.

Use All the Senses

A simple way to draw your reader into the story is by using the senses. It's often said that a great test is to try to include at least one of the five senses on each page. Incorporating even a few will give your reader a better sense of the characters or their surroundings and make them feel like a part of the story.

Have you recently read a book that completely drew you into the story? What tips have you seen or do you use to make your reader a part of the book?

***photo by flickr


Sarah Forgrave said...

Cindy, what a great post! Ever since I went through my professional edits, I'm hyper-sensitive to POV. You know it's bad when you read a book and start fixing things in your head. That's the sign of a great book...when it pushes my internal editor into hiding. :)

Heather Sunseri said...

Yes, Cindy. This is a great post. I sometimes fall into a She did this, She did that and forget to vary the sentence structure. That's where rewrites come in.

Just read Crossing Oceans by Gina Holmes. I did no mental editing. Thoroughly enjoyed her writing and the beautiful story she told.

Keli Gwyn said...

Great tips, Cindy. I tend to forget about using all the senses while bashing out a first draft, so I look for places to add more sensory detail during my editing passes.

I love it when an author does such a great job with story and craft that my Internal Editor takes a break. The last book I read that swept me away was A Memory Between Us, a WWII romance by my talented writer friend Sarah Sundin.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I love to use all the senses, but like Keli, itls easy to forget or overdue it on one.

I'm reading a powerful one right now...Mudbound.

~ Wendy

Casey said...

Very helpful post, Cindy. I recently finished Rachel Hauck's Dining with Joy. That was a book to lose yourself in for sure. Dialogue, characters, senses, a lesson in great writing. I should go back over it and look at it from a learning standpoint instead of entertainment now. :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Sarah, I agree. When the internal editor vanishes, you know it's a great book!

Heather, me too. Rewrites are so invaluable and so are critique partners. They're great at spotting that sort of thing :)

Keli, I haven't read that one. I'll have to remember it. And the sense thing is hard, isn't it? It's a great thing to add to the checklist when doing rewrites.

Wendy, the senses often seem the hardest on the first draft--but maybe that's just me :)

Casey, it's so great when you can read a book simply for entertainment, though, isn't it? And when you can later dissect it and learn from it, that book is definitely worth it.

Anonymous said...

Somehow creating scenes making sure all five senses are reflected has been ingrained in me so deeply I can be over descriptive! But I do love it even though I usually have to hit the delete key often.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Lynn, that sounds like a good problem to have :) Have a great weekend!

Jill W said...

Thanks for a great post Cindy! These tips will certainly help as I begin the daunting task of editing my NANOWRIMO project.
Heather, I loved Crossing Oceans! What a beautiful story. As soon as I finished the book, I immediately e-mailed Gina.