Let’s face it: in this day of action movies, readers have a shorter attention span than they used to. The days of long, winding narrative are over. So what can we writers do to give us the best possible chance of keeping the reader engaged from the beginning to the end of our story?
- Hook ‘Em
Readers need to be hooked at the beginning and end of every chapter. This is what stops them from putting the book down once they’ve reached a convenient stopping place.
- Watch your Pacing
Making your novel fast-paced will keep your reader hooked, but you need to have the occasional moment of relief or your reader will become used to the constant high tension and may grow bored. I remember hearing once that the best way to do this is not to slow things down, per se, but to switch from one type of tension to another. From emotional tension to plot tension, or vice versa.
- Shorten Your Chapters
Shorter chapters can trick the reader into feeling like the book is a faster read. How many of you come to the end of a chapter, count the pages in the next chapter, and decide it’s short enough that you’ll read just one more chapter? I know I do. The trick is to have a hook at the beginning and end, so your reader really, really wants to read the next chapter. If you can successfully do this, before they know it they’ve finished the entire book.
- Keep Your Paragraphs Short Too
Readers love white space. It makes the book seem more manageable. Even if the paragraph could be longer, consider having no more than three or four sentences per paragraph. If you have a big chunk of narrative that could be written in one paragraph, break it into several. This creates the white space a reader instinctively looks for.
- Use Lots of Dialogue
This is really a subset of the point above. Dialogue creates the white space a reader looks for, plus it’s fun to read the interplay between your characters.
What do you as a reader instinctively look for when considering whether or not to buy a novel? Do you scan it for dialogue or white space? Do you read the back cover blurb and/or the first few pages? (I do all of the above.)