Saturday, August 1, 2009

Notes on Writing - Tiffany Colter

Drawing Your Reader in to Your Story

Tiffany Colter

When writing, whether fiction or non-fiction, the key is to effectively connect with your reader. This will be a little different based on the expectations of the reader. Romance readers want an emotional experience with the promise of a happy ending. People who read the suspense genre want to feel the growing danger as the antagonist draws closer to their prey. Mystery readers want to connect intellectually on some level with their point of view character. They want to peel back the layers of the mystery and see if they can guess the villain before the character in the story does.

Understanding these expectations are crucial to connecting with your reader early on-but that is just the beginning. How do you fulfill the promise of an engaging story once a reader has offered you a bit of their time?

Recently on my Writing Career Coach blog I challenged readers to look at the first few pages of a few books they enjoy. I told them to look at the opening and notice how the story was created, the senses engaged, the questions posed and the emotions triggered. Setting up with a strong opening will get them to go beyond scanning you on a shelf. It will give you the opportunity to build the relationship with your reader. That is what writing is. It is a relationship built by communication between your character and the reader. For those precious hours spent between the pages of your book, the reader cares intimately for the person living in a world of your imagination.

As with any relationship, you must know your reader. You must see your writing as an experience for them rather than an achievement for you. You must be willing to recognize the needs of each kind of reader. As I said at the opening, different fiction readers read for different reasons.

What if you already know all of this? What then? How can you build writing that will land you that contract? Or the next one?

I have found that reading a variety of genres is the key to deepening my writing and engaging my reader. This is important because, while people have a primary preference, there is often a secondary need as well. Why else would there be a rise of Romantic Suspense and other such blended genres? It is because, like our characters, our readers have a variety of interests that they want to explore.

Let me share an example of what I mean. I write primarily Suspense Thrillers. I love to tangle and weave plot lines and make readers afraid to turn out their lights at night. However, I recently recognized a lack of emotion in my books. I was leaving the struggle purely external with very little for the protagonist to face within themselves. This makes a thin character. To resolve this issue I began to read Romance books, cover to cover, back to back. As soon as I finish one I pick up the next book [or book on Tape]. The emotional tangles experienced by the characters of those books helped me to think creatively about how to tangle personal issues in to the threads of my story.

But how can you do this practically? Here are three quick exercises to get you started. I suggest, however, that you buy books on craft [I have a list of them on my blog, but Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel is among my favorites.]

1. Decide what question you want to stick in the reader’s mind and set it up in the first few lines. It should eat at them until they know the answer.

2. Read a book outside of your genre and look for one thing you can incorporate into your own writing.

3. Engage the 5 senses and the emotions in the first few sentences. Let us smell or hear something. Then tell us how to feel about it. Draw us in.

If you begin to look outside your genre, without leaving it completely, you will deepen your characters as well as your relationship with your reader. By recognizing the importance of this role in your writing you will grow as an author and hone your unique writer’s voice.

Tiffany Colter, The Writing Career Coach, is an award-winning writer whose credits include national magazines, local papers, E-zines and blogs. Topics have ranged from reporting on-assignment about local businesses to national trends in the writing market. Every month more than 40 pieces authored by Tiffany appear online or in print. She speaks regularly to Writers groups & Business Owners as well as individuals. The Writing Career Coach Program was born out of her desire to provide affordable options to aspiring writers.

Tiffany has a degree in Political Science from the University of Toledo where she graduated Summa cum Laude from the Honors College. She is fluent in three languages, writes suspense-thrillers and reads business books as readily as she does a novel.

She can be reached through her websites and

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