The Week In Review — Making Readers Care

This week, I blazed through CATCHING FIRE and began flying through MOCKINGJAY. (NO SPOILERS, PLEASE rule still in effect!) I also began considering the possibility that my own WIP may not be a stand-alone. So I’ve been thinking a lot about what keeps readers devoted to the same world, the same characters, book after book after book.

Writing is a strange pursuit. It’s often solitary to the point of comic stereotype — see the ever-hilarious Kiersten White’s recent thoughts on the craziness of writers — yet its ultimate goal is to entertain, edify, or otherwise please the public. Writers spend vast swaths of their time alone, crafting sentences and paragraphs and books that they hope will be read by as many people as possible.

Like Tinkerbell needs applause, writers need readers. So what do writers have to do? They have to make their readers care. It sounds almost insultingly simple, but then again so is the act of closing a book and setting it aside. A book is perhaps the easiest piece of cultural entertainment to give up on. Walking out of a theatre production or even a movie has a social stigma attached to it; it’s at the very least considered rude and is a statement generally reserved for the most offensive or problematic of works. True, a radio or iPod can always be switched off, but music is still everywhere — emanating from grocery store loudspeakers or trickling out of your neighbor’s apartment. Museum entrance fees are often expensive, so patrons are likely to feel obligated to stick around long enough to feel the price was worth it. But books? Even if bought as opposed to borrowed, they tend to be relatively affordable. They’re generally read alone, and to set one aside is to risk disturbing no one except perhaps the cat curled up on your chest.

Persuading a reader to voluntarily give up his or her time, then, is no easy task — and that’s just for one book! Holding a reader’s attention for two or three or seven books (we all bow down to you, JK Rowling) is a truly inspiring feat. And there’s no magic formula — what hooks one reader may utterly bore another.

For me, though, it all comes down to the characters. Lovely, lyrical prose, like that of Ally Condie in MATCHED or Maggie Stiefvater in SHIVER and LINGER certainly encourages me to keep reading, but I wouldn’t have torn through any of those books on the merit of their eloquent writing alone. Breathtaking suspense, like that expertly crafted by Suzanne Collins in THE HUNGER GAMES and its sequels, inarguably rivets me to the page, but would have rung hollow on its own. What truly kept me clutching these books like they were the last pieces of sustenance on earth was how the characters made me feel. I positively ached for Cassia, Grace, Katniss and those they loved; I was desperate to know how things would turn out for them. I remain desperate, in fact — and that is the power of a series filled with compelling characters.

What keeps you glued to the page?

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