Tuesday, August 11, 2015

It's the Author's Responsibility to Keep Readers Reading

by Cindy Sproles @CindyDevoted

J. R. Ewing heard a noise outside his office door. He walked into the hallway and BOOM! Shot. Twice. This was the season ender for the 1980 television show, Dallas. America was taken back when they realized they were left without the answers to two questions:      
  1. Was J. R. Ewing dead?  
  2. Who shot him?

That closing scene was every writers dream come true . . . having the viewer/reader hungry for more.

Fiction is the most read genre in the country. Not only do authors vie for a spot on the fiction shelves of a bookstore, bigger yet, they vie for the reader’s attention. Thanks to the world of technology and media bumping up a viewer’s expectations, writers must step up the pace to draw the reader in.

The Writer’s Responsibility
Gone are the days of fluff–setting a lovely, soft scene for the opening paragraph. Today, readers thumb through a book and count the pages in the first few chapters. Readers no longer care how many chapters a book has, as long as they can read them quickly.  

It’s our job to hone the craft, unleashing the creativity that lays beneath the surface.  Current day readers demand more of the stories they read and we are forced to give them what they want. Otherwise, they choose the theatre over a good book.

Now, more than ever, the responsibility of the writer becomes grittier, and we are forced to offer the reader a more vivid reading experience by tapping into the depths of their emotion. Dinging the senses of the reader causes them to invest deeper into the story and become emotionally involved.

There was a time when the hook could be anywhere on the first page. Not anymore. Stretch your imagination and get that hook in the first paragraph. If you want to really wow the reader . . . the first line.

Readers today want instant gratification, a sudden jolt into the movement and pace of the work. The hook should be so powerful and engaging, that the reader asks the question, “What is going on here?” The writers hand should be so strong that it stretches out of the first paragraph wrapping its fingers around the neck of the reader, yanking them head first into a fictional bubble they have no desire to leave.

Building the fictional bubble remains an important writing staple. It’s creating a world that draws your reader in and allows them to shut out the reality around them. The fictional bubble is where the reader escapes to relish and savor the story they are seeing unfold. 

So how do we build a stronger fictional bubble?  Research. Do your homework. Know the subject you are writing about. The greater your knowledge on the subject you write about, the deeper you can draw the reader in with unique literary description and detail. It means you, the writer become a great liar, spinning a story of twists and turns, only dropping in enough untruth, to make the reader question.  The instant your description becomes cliché, pushes too far, or turns inaccurate . . . the second your reader knows more than you . . . the fictional bubble pops and you lose the reader. Creating this bubble that manipulates your reader and drives the story ahead is a tough job. No one ever said writing was easy. It’s filled with reader expectation and if you let them down, take them from their bubble, your readers are disappointed.

Ending every chapter with a cliffhanger drives the reader into a “can’t put it down” mode. It’s important to understand cliffhangers are not always action packed. They can simply leave the reader mid-stream of a thought. 

The lights in the theatre dimmed. He was three rows in front me. And I needed to ask him a question.

Something this simple strikes the reader’s curiosity and forces their desire to know. Action or disaster at the end of each chapter isn’t always necessary to keep readers guessing. Sometimes it’s just a question. The point is to end every chapter with a line that catapults the reader forward.

It’s up to the writer to stretch and hone their skill in order to keep them reading. When you make the effort to step up the pace of your writing, your stories will have meat on the bones and your readers will no longer be “just readers.” They will be fans.

How do you keep readers reading? Be sure to share your own tips in the comments section below!


Cindy Sproles is an author and popular speaker. She is the cofounder of Christian Devotions ministries and managing editor of Straight Street Books and SonRise Devotionals, imprints of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. Cindy is the executive editor of www.christiandevotions.us and www.inspireafire.com. She teaches at writers conferences nationwide and directs The Asheville Christian Writers Conference - Writers Boot Camp. 

She is the author of two devotionals, He Said, She Said - Learning to Live a Life of Passion and New Sheets - Thirty Days to Refine You into the Woman You Can Be. Cindy's debut novel, Mercy's Rain, is available at major retailers. Visit Cindy at www.cindysproles.com and book her for your next conference or ladies retreat. Also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. I am a ferocious reader and find my expectations as a reader are exactly what you described! Recently I read a novel that had very few characters and quite a simple plot line, but it still so well written that it was thoroughly enjoyable. I love to read for pleasure but also to discover what writers do that I want to imitate - or avoid.

    1. I see more and more readers just like you Amanda. Books compete with media and, I for one, want them to come out on top. What was the title of the book you read?

    2. The Irish Healer by Nancy Herran; also, Catching Moondrops by Jennifer Valent.
      In my defense I'll say I'm a patient reader; rarely will I put down a book and not finish it.

  2. Great post, Cindy. Hope you and your family are having a good summer.

  3. Outstanding! I'm a non-fiction reader unless a writer can hold my interest without fluff or chatter. Your books and articles grab me, hold me and leaves me wanting more.

    Thank you for sharing these insights, Cindy.

    Teach on!

  4. How do others feels about this? I believe that a book should have a beginning, a middle, and an ending, but I've read a couple where the book stops abruptly, with a message like "to be continued," or "to find out what happens, go to book 2."

    I feel that this is wrong. I get so frustrated when I see this, that I just forget about the book, and I do not buy book 2! What are your thoughts on this?

  5. Cindy,

    A great post, though I'd like to add another aspect to your ideas.

    For the writer who wants to sell lots of books, be widely read, and be viewed as successful by the world's standards, everything you say about engaging readers is true.

    But I posit the notion that there are some writers whose primary interest is in reaching another type of reader. The Old Fashioned Reader. The reader who still loves the classics, still enjoys a well-described setting, and isn't into instant gratification.

    For that type of writer, there is still the need to write well-crafted stories, but there's also the need to cater to their ideal reader. The one I described above.

    In most cases, a writer like that knows his or her audience may be small, but that's okay. Though small, that audience will be fiercely loyal and that's what matters.

    I put myself in that category and I write the types of books I most want to read but have an increasingly difficult time following.

    So I add that thought for all those writers who are like me and who are more interested in pleasing a possibly small group of readers.


    1. Heavens no Carrie, we want a story to end without leaving us hanging. I'm talking about chapters here. Writing your chapters so they have that cliffhanger...be it a question, a partial thought, or some action or inciting event. The key is NOT to leave the reader hanging at the end of the book, but to propel the reader from chapter to chapter. We want them wanting more...so much more, they can't put the book down.

  6. You are right. Depends on your audience. And I am no saying not to write great description. In fact. I said we have to create fictional bubble that draws the reader in and holds them.

  7. All I a suggesting is that we tighten our writing. Add the deep emotion that draws the reader in. Drop it in at the end of a chapter and that innate curiosity the reader has to want more, will compel them directly into the next chapter. They won't want to count pages in a chapter...they will be so enthralled they can't stop reading.