How to get readers engaged in your story

To be a truly successful fiction writer that people return to over and over again, you’ll want to pen a story that “engages” the reader. When a reader is engaged, she closely follows your tale, focusing on every word as if a wine connoisseur appreciating every sip of the best vintage.

What makes a novel or a short story really grab hold of a reader, makes them not want to put the book down? That’s a matter of personal taste, of course. If you like adventure stories, a romance probably is trash. If you appreciate great literature, you’ll probably find a lot of genre writing a bit low brow.

Still, where fiction is considered there seems to be some commonalities in good storytelling. First and foremost, if a reader is engaged, the “fictional dream” is stronger. That is, the reader feels as if the story really is unfolding around her. If you’ve written a fantasy piece this means the reader truly is lost in the escapist adventure. For the lover of more literary works, the story likely has the reader feeling that the story accurately reveals and perfectly captures some new truth about people or the world.

Regardless of the genre, creating a fictional dream – or successfully engaging a reader – likely means the writer has:
• Created scenes that are alive and vital to the dramatic action – When a scene primarily is about getting characters from “here to there,” the story slows. When a scene has a lot of banter in which characters don’t reveal anything about themselves, the story goes nowhere. Cut such scenes from your writing.
• Developed an intriguing and well-described setting – Regardless of the genre, the setting ought to give the characters the opportunity to do interesting activities that advance the plot. A setting should help establish the story’s atmosphere and mood against which the plot can take place.
• Devised a focus character who the reader can bond with – The story’s main character need not be exactly like the reader; indeed, readers often like idealized characters who they can pretend to be, such as Captain Kirk of “Star Trek” fame. Characters who possess inner conflicts – such as Mr. Spock’s sense of being an outsider and trying to maintain who he is in the face of it – are easier to relate to, however, and often more popular than idealized characters.
• Offered something new and provocative – For a literary work, this might be a twist on a theme (For example, what if procrastination would have been better for a Hamlet-like character?). For science fiction, it might be a new novum (i.e. gadget). For a mystery story, this might be a new way to commit a murder. Simply put, readers rarely want to reread a story that essentially is a copy of a story they’ve all ready enjoyed.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.