Writing Tip #32

Establish a reader-character connection. I just finished reading a thriller that — and I’m being generous here — was mediocre. (I’d rather not say who the author is.) Normally, I put these things down and read something else, but since it was a thriller, the genre I write, I thought it was important to keep going, just to see how things get wrapped up. As I was reading, I kept asking myself, “Why am I not liking this book?” And I think there were many reasons, but the one main reason was this: I didn’t care — at all — about any of the characters. Hey, I know thrillers are supposed to be these fast-paced books, where action trumps character, but you still need to be rooting for someone. Anyone. The only way a reader connects to a book is through its characters.

Why didn’t I connect? Here are a few reasons why:

  • There were way too many characters introduced. (Some authors are able to juggle tons of characters well, but here I had difficulty remembering who was who.)
  • The characters were too similar.
  • The characters weren’t fleshed out enough.
  • There was too much telling and not enough showing.

Not everyone is going to connect with your book, but it’s our job as authors to do everything we can to create that reader-character connection. And, at heart, it means giving your characters a struggle, a goal, a situation, that readers can relate to. Bring readers deep inside those characters. Author Jody Hedlund calls it “suturing”: Making readers “one” with your story. With this book, I always felt like I was being held at the surface when all I wanted to do was be plunged in.

To be fair, this book is the sequel to another thriller, which I have not read. (I didn’t know that when I picked it up in a hospital gift shop.) Still, it my mind, it should read as a stand-alone book, making me wish I had read the book that came before, not thankful that I haven’t.

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3 thoughts on “Writing Tip #32

  1. I’ve recently just read a thriller that had the exact same issues. Thought it had promise because of all the hype. But no, save for 100 pages of actual excitements the rest was rubbish. Especially the first 200 pages of boring charter building and scene setting.

    • Hmmm… I think I know what thriller you might be talking about. You don’t have to say, but the tip-off was “the first 200 pages of boring character building and scene setting.” :)

  2. Yet somehow books like this get published…which is mystifying. I’ve picked up lots of books that fail to hook me, yet they must have hooked SOMEONE–agent, editor, though god knows how.

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