Friday, January 24, 2014

How to Capture (and Keep) Your Reader's Attention

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When it comes to writing, crafting characters has always been my forte; developing the plot, on the other hand, is a different story (no pun intended). When I wrote the first draft of Purple Moon, I realized that it was lacking in plot development. This is yet another reason why I decided to postpone its release date: so I could strengthen the plot a bit more.

Now that I am writing the sequel to Purple Moon, I am experiencing same difficulties I did when I wrote the first book. It is especially difficult since this series is character-driven. This will be my third full-length YA novel I have written, and I have found that I always seem to get the most frustrated at this point: writing the first draft--when I want the book to grab the reader's attention, include the right plot threads, and keep readers flipping the pages to find out what happens next.

The simplest way to do this, I have found, is by studying the plots of other books (and movies).

When I read Divergent by Veronica Roth this past summer, I was captured--from start to finish. As I zipped through the story, I tried to take mental notes as to why I was so intrigued. I wanted to figure out the author's secrets, how she was able to capture my attention so well. Here are some of the techniques I have discovered:

     ➙ Grab the reader from the start. 

When I began reading Divergent, there was no way I could put the book down. The author incorporated conflict, as well as a life-changing decision that the protagonist was faced with, and I was eager to continue reading to find out what would happen. The protagonist's voice was also unique. This made me feel as though I were watching a movie rather than reading a book.

     ➙ Create likable characters that people can relate with. 

Tris, the protagonist in Divergent, is very likable. I am sure that many of us (especially teenagers) can see parts of ourselves in her. She does not consider herself to be brave. She wrestles with a life-altering decision (something every teenager has to deal with). Yet despite the fact that she considers herself to be average and weak, we discover that she is actually full of strength. These are the kind of characters that your readers will enjoy: heroic, strong, yet imperfect characters who face some of the same challenges that they do.

     ➙ Craft your plot so that readers are itching to find out what will happen. 

You can do this by ending your chapters with a cliff-hanger, incorporating much conflict, and having unanswered questions throughout the book--questions that can only be answered near the end of the story. The questions that ran through my mind as I read Divergent were: What choices will she make? Will she make it through the conflict that is constantly being thrown at her? Will she end up with the guy? Will she reach her goal?

     ➙ Include much conflict. 

There should always be something at stake for your protagonist. Brainstorm ways that would cause much trouble for your protagonist, and then make it worse. And even worse. That way, your reader will think it is impossible for your protagonist to make it out of the mess. One of my favorite ways to do this is through the ticking time bomb effect, which is especially useful in suspense novels.

      Create a chill-factor. 

This is a concept that I made up--as far as I know--and one that I hope to accomplish in all of my books. You know that feeling when you're reading a book and suddenly, near the end and/or cliff-hanger, the protagonist discovers something or accomplishes something that leaves you with goosebumps? These chill-factors are never just randomly thrown in. Instead, they are foreshadowed at the beginning, and throughout, the entire novel. (I would give an example of one, but I'd rather not give away any spoilers.) This is the moment when things begin to come together for the protagonist. This is the moment that might leave the reader in tears and have them closing your book satisfied and completely in awe of your story.

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Most importantly, write the novel that is in your heart. If you sit down to write with the sole purpose of creating a page-turning book, you might capture your readers' attention, but you won't capture their hearts. Don't be so determined to follow every single technique. Instead, allow the story to reveal itself, while keeping these techniques in mind as you write and/or outline.

     ✎ Are there any techniques that I failed to mention? Are you more of a plot-driven or character-driven novelist?

In case your wondering about Friday's Reflection: I have decided to only post it every other week. That way I can post more writing/faith-related posts. =) However, feel free to post it on your blog!

Also, there is a giveaway for PURPLE MOON that ends tonight! Click here to enter this giveaway on Goodreads. 
photo credit: susivinh via photopin cc


  1. These are all excellent techniques, Tessa! As to what kind of writer I am, that's hard to say. At first, I thought I would consider myself a plot-driven writer, but, honestly, I think it's pretty even. Most of my story ideas are just plot segments initially; I usually don't get into characters until I actually start writing. But I also love including deeply character-driven sections. So, I don't know. I love both aspects!

  2. What, your making a sequel? When will it come out?

    What do you have planned for the book?

    I think Selena should visit her Dad and go to his church for a week.

    1. Thanks for your input, Aili! I'm not sure when it'll come out, and it is actually not guaranteed that it will be published. So keep your fingers crossed and feel free to pray that everything will go according to God's will & His timing for the sequel. =)

  3. Interesting points Tessa! I'll keep these in mind for my mystery I hope to write. I loved Purple Moon and can't wait for the sequel!


  4. There will be a squeal! This is exciting!
    I know what you mean about plots, I have that struggle too. But the points you listed are good ones.

    1. Thanks, Jack! Feel free to keep the sequel in your prayers. I'm not 100% sure if it will be published yet, or when--but I do know that whatever happens is completely in God's hands.

      However, I do have another stand alone novel that might be published before Purple Moon's sequel. But that project could use some prayers, too. =)

  5. Thanks for the plot ideas thinggys. This will help a lot for my contest entry for the county writing contest


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