Fiction Writing Made Easy

5 Reasons Why Readers Stop Reading

February 03, 2022 Savannah Gilbo Episode 56
Fiction Writing Made Easy
5 Reasons Why Readers Stop Reading
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, I'm exploring 5 reasons why readers might stop reading a novel. Here's a preview of what you'll hear in the episode:

[01:50] Reason #1: Nothing meaningful happens in the opening pages.
[04:15] Reason #2: It’s hard to connect with the point of view characters.
[06:30] Reason #3: Readers don’t know what kind of story they’re reading.
[09:40] Reason #4: Readers have seen the same thing before.
[12:30] Reason #5: Readers don't care what happens next.
[15:45] Final thoughts and episode recap

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And this is where that whole writing something that's quote unquote, the same, but different comes into play. So you do need to deliver on the kinds of things. Readers are expecting from your genre, but you also need to be able to innovate the conventions of your genre rather than simply regurgitating them. And to me, this is where mastery comes in. So when we're first starting out, we might end up writing scenes similar to what's already out there and that's okay. But as you get better and better, and as you write further into your draft, you're going to think of ways to innovate on what's been done before. And really this is a skill that just takes time and practice to develop. So don't worry if you feel like you're not there yet, it will come welcome to the fiction. Writing made easy podcast. My name is Savannah Guilbeau, and I'm here to help you write a story that works. I want to prove to you that writing a novel doesn't have to be overwhelming. So each week I'll bring you a brand new episode with simple, actionable, and step-by-step strategies that you can implement in your writing right away. So whether you're brand new to writing or more of a seasoned author looking to improve your craft, this podcast is for you. So pick up a pen and let's get started In today's episode, we're going to talk about five reasons why readers might stop reading a book and then how to avoid making some of these mistakes that cause readers to stop reading in your draft. And the reason I thought this would be fun to cover today is because last week I had to give up on a book I was halfway through and it killed me 99% of the time I will finish a book because who knows, maybe it will get better or maybe it will surprise me, but this one book, and I'm talking about a traditionally published book, not one of my clients or students books, by the way, but this one book, I just couldn't finish it. And I started to wonder why. So then I decided to dig into this topic a little bit more for today's episode. So let's go ahead and just dive right in. Shall we, the first reason why a reader might stop reading a novel is because nothing meaningful happens in the opening pages. And what I mean by this is that a lot of writers use the beginning of a story to warm the reader up for what's coming next. So they'll put in a lot of backstory or exposition in the opening pages so that the reader knows everything there is to know about the characters or about the world before anything happens. And this is just not ideal. Imagine your favorite story and think about if the author did this to you, you might think all the backstory and exposition is cool and really fun, but you don't need to know it all before the story starts. So for example, I love the world building and Harry Potter, but I don't need to know how many floors are in the ministry of magic or what flavors there are in birdie bots, every flavored beans. Before I meet Harry on page one, that would just be too much information and it would be boring. So what should you do instead if you have a problem like this in your draft, the first thing is you need to make sure that something compelling is happening from the very first page. You might have heard the advice to start with action or to start in media Rez. And all that saying is the same thing. Start with something compelling that will pull readers into the story. But there's one caveat here. This doesn't mean to start with car chases or explosions or something super extreme like that. Rather, I want you to think in terms of a meaningful or impactful opening and meaningful and impactful are subjective, right? So what's a meaningful and impactful event for your character. You can also ask why does this story need to start today and not yesterday or tomorrow, because you're looking for the moment that things start to change for your protagonist, even if they don't know it just yet. This is usually a good indicator of when your story should start. And then don't feel like you need to tell readers everything instead, just give them enough context to understand what's happening in the scene or the story present, but not much more. You can save all of that for a later scene or chapter. And if you need help with your opening pages, I have a great workshop that can give you some guidance. It's called how to hook readers in your first five pages. And I will link to that in the show notes for you. If you want to check it out and learn more, but that's reason number one, readers will stop reading a novel if there's nothing meaningful happening in the opening pages of the story. Moving on to reason. Number two, the second reason that a reader might stop reading a novel is because it's hard to connect with the point of view character. And what I mean by this is that in most cases, the point of view character is either unrelatable or they aren't behaving like a real person would. So what does this look like? Well, this could manifest in a few different ways. So for example, a story might contain a protagonist who does not react to the events of the story at all, or barely ever since real people in real life, react to the things around them. This would make a character who does not react, feel unlike an unrelatable. So to avoid this, you really just want to make sure that your point of view characters are reacting or responding to what's happening around them. And the best way you can do this is by showing readers how they think and feel or how they're processing the events that are happening around them. You should also include how they decide to move forward into the next scene or the next activity based on all of those thoughts and feelings. Another way that shows up is when a character has no goal or motivation driving them forward. And in most cases in real life, we all have goals and we all have things motivating us to take action every single day, no matter how big or how small those goals or actions are. So when a character doesn't have a goal or something, motivating them to do stuff, they end up feeling unrelatable and false. And I have a podcast episode. That's all about crafting compelling characters. So if you're having trouble with this one, or if you've gotten feedback from beta readers or editors saying that you need to do a little more character work to make your character relatable, go check out episode number seven. And I will link to that in the show notes for you for easy access as well. But basically for every point of view, character, you should know a what they want be why they want it and see what's at stake. If they don't get it. And you really want each of these things to be specific. So if your answer is something like my character wants to be happy, you're going to need to dig a little deeper. So what does happiness look like for this character? How will readers know if this character has achieved happiness or not? And the same thing goes for their motivation and what's at stake. So the more specific you can be the better, and that's the second reason why a reader might stop reading a novel. They might stop reading. If it's hard to connect to the point of view characters, moving on to reason. Number three, the third reason a reader might stop reading a novel is because they can't tell what kind of story they're reading. And this is actually the reason that I stopped reading the book that I mentioned in the beginning of this episode. So for context, I had read the first book and it was more of an action, fantasy romance novel, and I loved it. But then I picked up book two and it read more like historical fiction without the action romance and fantasy that I loved from the first book. So as a reader, it was very jarring for me. I normally look forward to my time reading every night, but this was so different and just not what I was expecting. So I found myself feeling very indifferent to sitting down, to read every night. But that being said, I did read about halfway through the book to give it a chance. And finally, I realized that it was never going to become all of those things that I liked in book one. So I had to put it down. And I know the example I just gave you was from book one of a series to book two, but this does happen within one book as well. So imagine you pick up something like a mystery novel and everything's going as expected, but then a quarter of the way through it veers off and becomes a romance that would be a little bit jarring to you as a reader, right? And it's not what you signed up for. And just for the record, I'm not saying that you can't have elements of more than one genre in your book. You certainly can, but you do want to pick one to be your main genre. So in the example, I just gave mystery. It would be the main genre. And then you would want to slot your secondary genre as your supporting genre or your subplot. So in the example I talked about earlier, that would be romance. And really what you want to avoid is writing the beginning of your book as one thing and the end of your book as something different. Because again, that's just not going to be a good experience for readers. And once they realize they're not getting what they signed up for, or they're not surprised and delighted in the way that they thought they would be, they're probably going to put your book down. Another thing I want to point out here is that it's also good. If you can make it clear, what kind of story readers are in for, from the very first page. So mystery readers want to know they're reading a mystery right away. Romance readers want to know they're reading a romance from the very first page and really the same goes for readers across any genre. Sometimes I see science fiction and fantasy writers have a hard time with this. So for example, let's say someone's writing a paranormal romance, but there's nothing paranormal happening until page 75. That's going to be a little strange for readers. Another thing I see sometimes is that fantasy writers don't include magic until way too late in their drafts. And really no matter what genre you're writing in, it should be very clear from the first page. So if you're going to include magic in your story, you should show it. Or at the very least hint at it from the very start and something that always helps me keep this in mind is that a confused reader is a lost reader. So we don't want to confuse our readers because that means we will lose our readers. And if you need help figuring out the genre of your story, you can go back and listen to episode. Number two, that's all about choosing the right Shannara for your idea. I willing to that episode in the show notes for easy access as well, but that's reason number three, that someone might stop reading a novel. They might stop reading if they have no idea what kind of story they're actually reading, moving on to reason. Number four, the fourth reason that a reader might stop reading a novel is because they've seen the same thing before. And I'd say, this is one where readers might be a little more forgiving than the others. But what I mean by this is that if an opening scene of a story is something we've seen a million times before. So for example, the heroine of a story going on a run, the hero of a story, waking up in bed from a bad dream or the bad guys on a plane, planning, something suspicious, you know, things like that. Then it's probably not going to be that compelling for readers. And this matters because we want to pull readers into our story as quickly as possible, right? So we don't want to give them any reason for putting our book down before they even get into the meat of the story. And if you suspect that you've done this in your draft, you have two options for fixing it. Number one is that you can either change your opening to be something more meaningful and compelling where number two, you can find a way to make the scene of say your heroin going for a run, more compelling and meaningful so that it feels different and therefore more interesting. And really either way, what you want to do is take whatever's happening and just make it very specific to your protagonist. Recently, I worked with a writer whose opening scene was the heroin coming back from a run, but it wasn't just a random person going for a random run. Being a runner was a very large part of this character's identity. So we were able to show that through the context of the scene and just set up the conflict that had nothing to do with running in a way that was going to pull readers in. So a little bit of a caveat there, there are ways to make scenes like this work. It's just, you have to ask, is it really appropriate for the story? Or can I do better knowing my characters and knowing my plot. And this is where that whole writing something that's quote unquote the same, but different comes into play. So you do need to deliver on the kinds of things readers are expecting from your genre, but you also need to be able to innovate the conventions of your genre rather than simply regurgitating them. And to me, this is where mastery comes in. So when we're first starting out, we might end up writing scenes similar to what's already out there and that's okay, but as you get better and better, and as you write further into your draft, you're going to think of ways to innovate on what's been done before. And really this is a skill that just takes time and practice to develop. So don't worry if you feel like you're not there yet, it will come. But for now, if you want to hear a bit more about genre conventions and how to make sure that you don't go into cliche territory with them, go check out episode number 16, that's all about the difference between genre, conventions and tropes. I will also link to that episode in the show notes for easy access as well, but that wraps up reason. Number four, that a reader might stop reading. So a reader might stop reading because they've seen the same things done in the same way before. Moving on to reason. Number five, the fifth reason a reader might stop reading is because they don't care about what happens next. And the easiest way I like to think about this is that the point of view character in a story is the reader's avatar for experiencing the story. So whatever that point of view character feels, the reader would ideally feel too. And if there's nothing to make the protagonists curious and or constantly moving forward, then there's going to be nothing to make the reader feel that way either. And this does relate back to reason. Number two, where we talked about how readers might stop reading, if they don't connect with the point of view character in a story. But I have another angle on this one in terms of what you can do to avoid this in your draft. So if you think you have this problem, or if beta readers have brought this to your attention, chances are pretty good that your protagonist isn't trying to find out, discover, learn, or do something in your actual pages. So in other words, your protagonist probably lacks agency. So you'll definitely want to go back and flush out your protagonist or your point of view characters more if this is the case, but you'll also want to think in terms of evoking questions and providing answers for both your protagonist and by extension your readers. So once the central conflict has sucked your protagonist in what might they want to find out, learn, discover, or do. And as a random example, let's say your protagonist is a detective and they've just been assigned a murder investigation. They are not going to be sitting around waiting for clues to come to them, right? Instead, they're going to have to start somewhere. They're going to have to start looking into one thing that will lead to another thing and then another and another, until they finally figure out who done it. And I know we're not all writing murder mysteries, but you can really apply this to any genre. So let's look at an example from a made-up action adventure story, let's say the bad guys have come in and set fire to your protagonist town. And now he or she is on the run. So they finally arrive in a neighboring village and they don't know what to do. It's highly unlikely that they're going to sit there and do nothing, right? So what might be the first question that they ask of themselves or others? Maybe they want to know if a sibling that they had back in their village is still alive. Maybe they want to know how to get to a different location from their current location, or they might need to find a new way of traveling or who knows, but let's say they want to find out what happened to their sibling. So by asking questions and pursuing the answer to what happened to their sibling readers will be curious too, because your protagonist cares. So because your protagonist wants the answers and because they care readers will want the answer and they will care too. And then let's say this character finds their sibling, but they learned something else while finding their sibling. That prompts a new question. So now we can just start the cycle over and keep going until we reach the very end of the book. So I just want you to keep in mind this thought of questions and answers to help pull your protagonist and your reader through the story and keep them curious. So that's reason number five, that a reader might stop reading. They might stop reading a novel because they don't care about what happens next. And that wraps up the five reasons why readers might stop reading a novel. And there are probably more reasons, but these are what I see as the five most likely reasons. So I hope they were helpful for you. And I hope they illuminated some mistakes that you could potentially avoid in your own draft. Now, before I let you go, let's do a really quick recap. The first reason that a reader might stop reading is that nothing meaningful is happening in the opening pages. And to avoid this, you just want to make sure that something compelling is happening in your draft from the very first page. And remember this doesn't have to be crazy action or plane crashes or anything like that. It just needs to be something meaningful and impactful to your character. So if they care readers will care. The second reason that a reader might stop reading is because it's hard to connect with a point of view character. So to avoid this, you really just want to make sure that your point of view character has a clear and believable goal and motivation, and that they're also reacting to what's happening in the scene. Just like we would in real life. The third reason a reader might stop reading is because they can't tell what kind of story they're reading. So to avoid this, you really just want to make sure that you have genre consistency or that you've created a genre hierarchy. So pick one to sit on top of that hierarchy and then have supporting sub genres or subplots underneath that. The fourth reason a reader might stop reading is because they've seen the same thing done in the same way before. So to avoid this, you really just want to keep writing and keep practicing, because you're going to think of ways to innovate on what's been done before, but it's not going to be something that magically happens overnight. This is also why I don't like writers to get stuck on their very first chapter. Because sometimes if you go to the end of your draft, you'll have a much better idea for a strong and compelling opening that is maybe more specific or meaningful or impactful to your protagonist. So that's reason number four, the fifth reason a reader might stop reading is that they just don't care what happens next. So to avoid this, you want to think in terms of questions and answers, and really you want your protagonist to be pursuing something. So trying to learn, do discover or find out something. And you need to make sure that they have the right amount of agency to go after that. So think in terms of questions and answers, because if your character is curious, your reader will most likely feel curious as well. So that's it for today's show as always. I want to thank you so much for tuning in and showing your support. If you want to check out any of the links I mentioned in this episode, you can find them over@savannahguilbeau.com forward slash podcast. And if you haven't done so already, make sure you subscribe to the show because there's going to be another brand new episode coming out next week. If you're an apple user, I'd really appreciate it. If you took a few seconds to leave a quick rating and review your ratings and reviews, tell iTunes that this is a podcast that's worth listening to and in turn that helps this show get in front of more fiction writers, just like you. So that's it for today's show. I'll be back next week with a brand new episode until then happy writing.