Storytelling and what the reader wants

Many local newspapers include a weekly Book section of reviews. My paper runs it on Sunday and it’s become my go-to for new releases.

This week I paid attention to the way a novel was summarized. For example:

The Good Dream is engrossing reading with an ending that satisfies.”

“The last 100 pages of Ripper are tense, terrifying — and worth the investment.”

” And there is a nice twist that few will see coming to take the intrigue right up to the last page (The Trust).”

“… and the plot is heart-pounding, so the novel is sure to be embraced by Mr. Burke’s fans (Creole Belle).”

The summaries reminded me of what I’ve learned about storytelling. Nigel Watts, in his book Write a Novel and Get it Published (my current non-fiction read) explains how the best storytelling serves three functions for the reader: entertainment, escape, and understanding. He only spends four short paragraphs on the functions, but they made me think hard about my reader.

Do your fiction writings function for your reader in these ways? Do you even consider them to be necessary for the stories you write?

Entertainment

“I want my novel to function as entertainment.” Do you hesitate to describe your craft that way? You may think your writing is beyond such a description. Yet, how often do you find yourself laughing, angered, excited, or moved to tears while reading your favorite novels?

You’ve been entertained. You’ve allowed that story to hold your attention and move your emotions. Novels of all genres and literary categories have done that for their readers.

Here’s a definition of entertainment: agreeable occupation for the mind. Another one: something affording pleasure, diversion, or amusement.

A good story entertains. How will your novel satisfy your reader’s mind?

Escape

One of the greatest pleasures of reading fiction is being able to duck out of life and into a new world, if only for a little while.

There are countless reasons for a reader to desire that escape. Whatever they may be, your storytelling can provide this gift of escape. Your reader can put aside her cares and concerns, and let reality wait for a few hundred pages.

Fiction is imaginative. No reader who has a well-told story in front of her will stay at home. She will leave it behind and follow your journey, staying on the road until she looks up and notices the sky, darker, or hears the knock on the window.

A good story provides escape. Where will your reader go for her getaway?

Understanding

Last weekend I finished reading my favorite novel, To Kill A Mockingbird. I never tire of the story, and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve read it.

I was entertained by the humor, the characters, and the suspense. I walked the streets of Maycomb, Alabama. And when I got home, I thought about the forward strides we’ve made as a country since Harper Lee wrote that story.

It’s awesome to think about what a writer can do with words. The situations, ideas, issues, and problems that fill our world today can be woven into a story. Your reader is better for it; he now has an extra piece to help him figure out this grand thing we call Life.

A good novel offers understanding. What will your novel add to your reader’s understanding of our world and the human condition?

That’s the type of story I want to write: it’s entertaining, it takes you away, and it brings you back with more than what you had when you left.

What do you think? Is this what a reader wants from a story?


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