How Do You Keep Your Readers Enthralled?

As I write this, I’ve just finished “Words of Radiance” by Brandon Sanderson. I read the first of this series not long after its release and absolutely loved it, so I’ve been eagerly awaiting the second installation. I thought therefore, that I’d write this post partly as a book review, and partly as a discussion of my thoughts on how a writer keeps their readers flipping the pages.

I have to say that I loved this book! It was so good that I couldn’t wait to get to the finish to find out what happened, while simultaneously wishing for it never to end. One of the things that kept me so enthralled was the multiple subplots. Although this book was very much Shallan’s story, it still followed the other major characters in a very satisfying way. It also introduced several more minor characters in the form of interludes.

The story begins almost immediately after the conclusion in The Way of Kings. If you haven’t read the first book, then this is not the place to leap into the story – you most definitely need to start with Book One. 

It’s a fascinating tale, and there’s very obviously lots more of the story still to come, so now I’m starting the wait for the next volume. When you become invested in a series, the waiting time between volumes is always a funny kind of time. If, like myself, you’re a re-reader, then there’s lots to fill in the time. In addition to reading other books of course, you can re-read the parts of the series you already have, and recently, I’ve discovered that if you get them in audiobook format, you can listen to them and pick up nuances that you didn’t realise you’d missed when you read the story the first/second/third times.

This story kept me enthralled from the first page to the last one. Several times as I read, I felt myself wishing to knock a few of the characters’ heads together. I was also pleased to discover that a couple of hints I’d picked up while jogging to the audiobook of “The Way of Kings” panned out almost as I’d thought might happened. (It’s always a good moment when you go “Yes! I was right!” but are still surprised by just how it all came together in the end.)

The reading of this book was enhanced by the lovely artwork contained in its pages. Shallan is an artist, and many of her drawings have been beautifully depicted as part of the book. Even on my kindle, they were well imaged and clear. I’ve been a fan of Brandon Sanderson’s world building for some time now, but Roshar is probably the most well realised so far. The thought that has gone into its ecology and structure is just amazing, and those pictures and maps were just fabulous.

If you’re a fan of Brandon Sanderson’s, you’ll be, at the very least, intrigued by a few of the revelations at the end of the book. If I didn’t have a book of my own to finish writing, I’d be tempted to go and do a little more reference reading. No more on this, because….spoilers….

So, how do you keep your readers enthralled? You keep your characters in jeopardy – physical, moral, ethical jeopardy, and you devise a plot so cunning, so clever and so intriguing that your readers can’t wait to flip the pages and devour it. In addition, you need something special, something that sets your story apart, something so special your readers desperately want to have it for themselves. 

Words of Radiance has spren, and stormlight. If I think of some of my other favourites, I’m reminded of Narnia, dragons, firelizards, the gift of music, The Luggage and various types of magery, honour and courage.

So getting on to the question in the title of this post again, I think it has a lot to do with pacing, plot, and characters who leap off the pages. The characters need to more than just “good” or “bad” and need to be real in their responses to the world around them. I’m hoping that my starcats are part of the “something special” that readers might learn to love.

If you write speculative fiction in any of its shapes and forms, you also need to be a world builder. The world itself needs to be a significant part of the story that lives and moves around the characters in a completely believable way.

I’m currently at the point in my story where I need to tie all of the pieces together in a finale that not only reveals all, but is fast paced enough to be enthralling and satisfying and emotional and cohesive. It’s a challenge. But it’s a challenge that I’m hoping will satisfy my readers (and my publisher!) and make them feel as if they’ve been clever, but still surprise them enough to pack a punch. Some days when I’m writing I feel as if I’m balancing on a tightrope over Niagara Falls, hoping desperately not to fall, but still not wanting the security of a predictable safety net.

If you’re a writer, I’d love to hear your thoughts about how you tie in all your plot lines to enthrall your readers, and if you’re a reader and you’ve read Words of Radiance, I’d love to hear whether you were as enthralled as I was!

4 thoughts on “How Do You Keep Your Readers Enthralled?

  1. I try to put my characters through constant turmoil and let that turmoil become worse and worse as the story goes on. Not to mention keeping characters active and not passive.

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