Saturday, March 21, 2020

What draws a reader into a story?

Today I'll not  use my own writing as examples, but other books I've enjoyed over a lifetime of reading. 

What draws me into a story? Excellent topic this month from Rhobin. Many elements can draw readers into a story.
      A time period. It could be the sixties or six hundred years ago, but some point in time that speaks to us or that we would like to know more about. As a kid, I was besotted with ancient Rome, and with Zane Grey’s American West. I lived in the West, but Grey’s characters lived more fully in more dramatic landscapes. It wasn’t great literature, but don’t tell a twelve-year-old kid that. 
Zane GreyNovels

)    A place. I am reading Elena Ferrantes’ Neapolitan series set in post-war Italy. Ferrante takes us to a different world, working-class Naples, the poor outskirts of the city. She brings the neighborhood to life with people and the events in their lives. It’s not such an appealing setting until you sink into it.  

Elena Ferrante

3)    A remarkable character. I’m thinking of you, Huck Finn. Who can ever forget you? Huckleberry Finn has it all: the time, the place, and the characters. Not just Huck Finn, but his friend Jim, the King and the Duke and the whole crew. The pre-civil war time period in the American South, with the two fugitives going down the mighty Mississippi River, on a raft. 

Mark Twain

4)    Adventure.  Something happens.  The plot, the story pulls us in. It can be Julius Caesar and his armies conquering Europe and Britain, or families and teens feuding in Fifties Naples.  It can be Huck and Jim and their escapes.  Something happens, and we worry about the characters. They are always in trouble. Conflict. Big time conflict pulls us further into the story. We’re turning pages like crazy.  What’s going to happen? Will our heroes survive? 

Robert Bruce Coffin

I’ve given some examples, but we could look further at books I’ve recently read   A New England writer, Robert Coffin. writes police procedurals set in Portland, Maine. His character is a cop with a drinking problem and family problems and on-the-job problems. Conflict pulls us into the story.  Inner conflict, conflict between characters, conflict with most anything.

 And voice.  A voice with authority, a different voice. Portland Maine, the American West, Naples, Italy, and the Mississippi River.

Time place, character, conflict, and voice all pull us into a story. And how much better is the story that all the elements are talking to us at once. We cannot stop reading, not even if we want to.    

 These excellent writers will definitely have interesting takes on today's topic. 

Beverley Bateman
Victoria Chatham
Skye Taylor
Helena Fairfax

Diane Bator
Dr. Bob Rich
Fiona McGier
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobincourtrig
Connie Vines


  1. Enjoyed reading your take and examples on openings, and you also explained how different aspects might reach readers with different interests.

  2. I love Robert Coffin. Partly because of all the things you mention. And because the reader made me care about this troubled cop who takes each murder so personally. But I also love that I know the setting itself. Can't wait for his next book. I also am intrigued with a historical setting and a well written glimpse into life in a different time.

  3. You're right about the author needs to grab the reader's attention. I prefer for it to happen in the first chapter. I saw a tee shirt that said, "life's too short to read bad books." Amen to that!

  4. I like the analytical way you have explored what works. One could use it as a set of criteria in a book contest. So, it's an excellent guide for writers.
    Well done.

  5. I loved Zane Grey, too, and I still have a couple of his titles. There are so many new books to read but many of my 'old' books are like friends and I'm happy to meet them again.


Your comments are always welcome!