Tuesday, April 14, 2020

5 Tips for Writing the Desirable Story

by Cindy Sproles @CindyDevoted

There was a time reading was “desirable.” It wasn’t forced. Wasn’t dreaded. Reading was important. These days we see bookstores shutting their doors and libraries struggling. We see children thumbing away on electronic games and eyes glued on the television. What happened to the love of reading?

It’s been said, 88% of readers are women and of that group the age of the “avid” reader is 40. I have to ask myself just how true those numbers are. It’s obvious reading has dropped in popularity over the last ten years, but there are still avid readers who sit snuggled on the couch reading their favorite novel. 

If there are still avid readers, then what draws them to read when the world offers such a wide variety of mind-stimulating activity?

What draws them in, is a solid story. What you were waiting for was something earth-shattering, weren't you? A huge revelation. Sorry. It’s a simple truth. Readers read because they love the story. 

This brings us to ask the question, “What makes a good story?” Can authors continue to pump out storylines that make reading insatiable? I for one think the answer is simple. As long as there are folks with a keen imagination, we won’t run out of stories, but those stories have to be good. That means authors must step up their game. Now is not the time to slack on the basics. 

Let’s pick apart the Harry Potter series (and don’t waste time arguing the good, bad, and ugly of the series. That’s a post for another time.) Rather, let’s see what it was about J. K. Rowling’s writing that dragged readers of all ages into a fantasy world.

5 Tips for Writing the Desirable Story

1. She pinged an audience: By that, I mean, Rowling looked at a subject that went back as far as Grimm’s Fairytales and then she dug into her imagination and let it fly. Who of us hasn’t read Cinderella or Snow White? When you look at them with a critical eye, those stories were a little frightening. There were witches, good and bad, fairies, evil – it was all there. All Rowlings did, was pick apart a portion that she found interesting and capitalized on it.  Adults were reading about dragons and magic long before Harry Potter. It’s called fantasy.  So, J. K. Rowling pinged an audience and piqued their interest in a long-standing genre called fantasy.

2. She learned the craft: Anyone can write a story, but not everyone can tell a story. Rowlings learned the craft of writing and how to tell a story well. She mastered plots and characterization. There were characters we loved, empathized for, and even despised. Then Rowlings wove them together beautifully because she had practiced, wrote, and learned the craft of writing.

3. She gave the reader adventure: When there is a truly appealing adventure, the reader jumps on board for the ride. It's like watching folks line up for a roller coaster ride, screaming their brains out through the flips and turns, and then running back to the same line again for a second ride. The adventure takes us places in our imagination that reality cannot. It drives us to turn the page and when the book is done. We not only long for more, but we mourn the end. Adventure doesn't have to be a knockdown, drag-out story, it simply needs to be a journey with twists and turns, loops, and dips, that makes the reader want more. It can be an adventure of a widow finding love after the loss of her husband or a child who was lost being located. The reader simply has to feel those bumps, twists and turns to ride out the journey or adventure to happiness. It's easy to tell a flat story. It's hard to build a solid story with all the perfect elements that grab the reader. It takes practice. 

4. She gave us memorable characters: Rowlings gave us characters that we could relate and cheer for on their adventure. She made them multi-layered where we could see their internal struggles as well as their external ones. AND, she embedded that sense of right and wrong within them. As their personalities developed, we could see the same struggles we face and we could relate on a very personal level. In other words, she made them real to us.

5. She never gave the characters real peace: and because of that, the adventure never stops. There was always a continuing search for the end. Otherwise known as a cliff hanger, it’s the one thing that makes the reader plead for an answer. Right when they think they have it all figured out, up pops a question we didn’t answer. Oh, we’ll wait and answer that next time.

All this to say, storytelling is an art we can't take for granted. It's up to us, the writer, to continue to up the bar. The future of reading is in the hands of those who can write interesting, enjoyable, and amazing stories. It is up to us to practice and hone the craft and more so, it's up to us to realize that editing, rewriting, and refining are vital. We can write a story, stamp the end on it, and demand its perfection, but is it? Writers must take each character and dig into their soul, shape them, good and bad, so readers want to know more about them. 

The greatest compliment I received from my novels was this, “I felt like the characters were my friends.” Who could have asked for more? When we, as writers, take the time to shape every aspect of our story from characters to scenery, we are writing a fictional bubble the reader will enter into and never want to leave.

We aren’t all J. K. Rowling. But then I can’t imagine her in my Appalachian historical novels. However, I can be vigilant to write stories that make the readers hunger for more. I can work endlessly to craft a novel that sparks the desire to continue to read. 

Study the craft. Write it well and you will have readers who love your work and who will long more.


Cindy K. Sproles is an author, speaker, and conference teacher. She is the cofounder of ChristianDevotions.us and the executive editor of ChristianDevotions.us and InspireaFire.com. Cindy is the managing editor for Straight Street Books and SonRise Devotionals, both imprints of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. She is an award-winning and best-selling author and the director of the Asheville Christian Writers Conference. Visit Cindy at www.cindysproles.com. @cindydevoted


  1. Thanks for the tips, Cindy.
    I agree, I good story will find an audience through word of mouth.
    However, we need to promote reading from a young age with age appropriate books. Get them young.

  2. I agree with Ingmar's comment. Starting children young is a key to developing a love of reading. Cuddle with them on the couch while you read stories of adventure, stories of great Christians, stories that will leave them hanging on for more. Stop at the end of a cliffhanger chapter, and make them wait until the next day to learn what happens next. It worked for us. We have a family of readers.

  3. Absolutely agree. There is such value in time spent reading with your child is both mentally and intellectually valuable.