Challenge,  On Writing

Editing and Reading Observations… Part 5…

Kris Gave Me This One…

And I noticed it right off the last few nights of reading after she mentioned it.

This one is a little more advanced than just needing to add depth or pacing or information flow. This one is “Why should the reader care?”

Be honest with yourself. You have read or started to read a book or story and just shrugged. and put the book down. And the best sign of this problem is that the reader can’t remember anything that happened in the story just shortly before.

The reader just doesn’t care.

The writing might be fine, good depth fine pacing and so on. But something about the story has no emotion, no reason for the reader to care. Clearly the topic is important to the writer, but the writer forgot about the reader.

These stories happen in numbers of places…

For me the most often place is in a made-up fantasy world, opening with a woman going to get water and being chased by big guys with swords. Why should I care?

Second most obvious place for me is a character stuck in a bad home with a bad mother nagging at him or her. Why should I care? My real world mother was far worse than what most of you could make up anyhow.

Someone driving a long distance to get away from something not told to us… Don’t care.

And again, the writing can often be great in these, but as I say, the story just didn’t hold me because, to be honest, you just didn’t make me care.

How do you fix this problem? Character needs to care and have emotion. You want the reader to care in your strange situation, first off the character must care.

Second, the situation needs to be at least slightly interesting and we really, really, really need to know the character before the hugger-mugger comes charging in.

If you are just typing to get your words, chances are the reader will feel that. But if you are passionate about the story, your character is passionate, then chances are the reader will stick with you if you have the craft skills to relay that passion.


(Side Note… THE 50 YEAR PERSPECTIVE OF LEARNING class I have been talking about the last two days in now actually up on the first page on Teachable.)


  • Emilia

    A lecture or pop on “How to make the reader care” would sound good. Emotion and dept workshops helped a lot, but I would take a lecture focusing on how to make the reader care in the opening of the story. Openings in general are when my critical voice is most active and any teaching that helps is welcome.

  • T Thorn Coyle

    Good one, Dean!

    Every time I stall out on reading a book, it’s because I don’t care.

    I also notice this in certain films that start with a violent space battle, or the equivalent, before giving us any time to care about the characters. Ho hum. Zero stakes. It’s why I enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy so thoroughly: the writers, actors, and director got us invested in every character and their relationships, so the adventure was actually fun, with real stakes.

    If I start to get bored in my own story, it’s usually my subconscious telling me I need to go deeper into character, or that my story is on the rails and I need to let myself play around.

  • Brad D. Sibbersen

    I’m a HUGE fan of the TV show Firefly, the first episode of which opens with a LONG combat sequence in which we have no understanding of or investment in the stakes, featuring characters we, as yet, know nothing about. Nearly everyone I have recommended the show to stops it after about 10 minutes and texts me “Does this get any better?” Yes, it very much does, but those opening scenes perfectly illustrate what Dean is talking about here.

    The network was criticised for originally running the episodes out of order and not showing this one first, but I can kind of understand their logic in this case.

    • dwsmith

      Wonder why it was such a short-lived show… No way to get into it. I had the same problem when I first watched it and didn’t go back until it hit a cult following. Really too bad…