Secret Strength: Worry

Imagine what you look like when you're in the middle of reading one of your favorite books. Now pretend someone pauses that image. What are you doing? How do you feel? I imagine I'm probably biting my bottom lip, leaning forward toward the book in my hands, and holding my breath.

What is it that causes us to become so invested in a story? Why does this happen in a really good book?

Because we are worried about the characters.

Readers secretly want you to scare them to pieces. I know this because that's what I want when I read. They might not admit it, but think about it--a story where you're not concerned about the characters is probably a boring story. We like to think the status quo is interesting, but really, it's not even a story.

So how do we go about using worry to keep our readers flipping the pages?

1) Make your characters likable. Before we're willing to worry about someone, we first must want what's best for them. We want them to achieve their goals and dreams, and we just generally like hanging out with them throughout the pages of the story.

2) Make the stakes clear. Be sure you give clear emotional as well as external stakes. We need to know what the characters stand to lose, and what the consequences are of that possible loss. Usually speaking, the bigger the stakes, the better, so long as it's believable.

3) Threaten the characters with these stakes. Character growth happens when characters are challenged. But not only do these challenges make for better-rounded characters, they also keep the reader hooked because she's so worried about how the characters will handle the challenge. Think about your character's greatest fear. Then think about how she would respond if confronted with that fear. Then make her confront it. That's the secret behind a great story, because if your readers really care about your character, they will journey with her as she overcomes these obstacles and comes out stronger... and you'll keep them hooked along the way!

Have you ever used a suspenseful thread in your stories? How do you keep your future readers hooked by your writing, and have you ever used the strategy of making your audience worry about your characters?

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  1. Yep, I use an antagonist to threaten my character's well-being: emotionally and physically. There are other struggles going on with my MCs, but that external threat is what drives some of the story.

  2. That's a great strategy, Lindsay, and I'm glad you mentioned it. I just ordered The Hero's 2 Journeys on dvd because I'm going to work on more closely aligning the external threat with my character's inward journey. Thanks for stopping by today! :)