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Storyworld vs. Story

books with text: turn the page

You have one goal for your readers: get them to turn the page. You do that with your story. Not your backstory. Not your vast knowledge of (fill in expertise). Not your setting. Not your storyworld. 

All of those are elements that add dimension and verisimilitude to your story. But, the story itself is what keeps readers reading.

Get Your Reader to Care 

Right from the start, you want your reader to care about your protagonist. Caring comes from understanding and empathy. Get into the story. Challenge your protagonist. Give them something to do, a problem to solve.

New authors may stumble introducing required story elements without getting to the story.

Here’s my experience from several years ago as an example:

The other day I began reading a “suspenseful spy thriller.” Chapter One consisted of a finely detailed conversation “introducing” the main character in his everyday world but without one iota of suspense. 

The chapter was filled with finely detailed descriptions of the setting, the protagonist’s appearance including down-to-the-buttons attire description, tools used with experience, and backstory about a family member. I began to wonder if this was a romance presented in the guise of a thriller. If it had been billed that way I would not have purchased the book, much less started reading. OK, I’ll give the author a break. Maybe the story starts in the next chapter.

Nope! Chapter Two presented the “save the cat” details of the protagonist caring for an ailing family member and a long description of a native talent built to professional standards. But still, no story. 

Now, as a writer, I was curious: when does the story start? As a reader, I would stop here. I still hadn’t found the suspenseful spy thriller.

Finally, in Chapter 3, the intrigue starts. The author had already lost me. My curiosity drove me to find where the story started but I had lost interest in the story. I stopped reading.

In the first few pages of your novel, you need to get the reader into the story. I am certain that the author of the spy thriller believed she had met story essentials by portraying the protagonist’s normal life, showing that he was empathetic, and illustrating his unique talent. In doing so, she left the story behind.

Writers need to find the balance between the “accounting” and the initial intrigue that makes the reader wonder what will happen next. In order to get your reader to keep reading get them to care about the character and their story dilemma. Readers want to sense this is only the beginning how is it going to get worse?

Start the Story

At the start of your story, reassure readers that the story you promised feels like the genre they want, gets your protagonist in action right away, and delivers a dilemma that keeps them reading for more.

Let your reader experience your storyworld through the character’s eyes. Rather than telling information, help the reader experience the story through character responses. Create questions in the reader’s mind right away.

You have an entire novel to drip in information.  

Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash 

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