Guest Post: Engross Your Readers

While I’m away, I’ve got an array of guest posts for you.  Today’s comes from Alice Anderson.

Engross your readers

by Alice Anderson

I recently read an ARC from Karen Hawkins that got me thinking about ways to engross your readers. This book, The Taming of a Scottish Princess, did a fabulous job of it. So well in fact that I read straight through Dancing with the Stars and Castle!

So how do you engross your readers?

Well, it starts with your characters.

Let your readers in on an inside joke.

Why it works: We all like to be included. At some point or another we’ve all been in on an inside joke. Giving your characters an inside joke gives them a connection that they don’t have with other characters. It’s that connection that ties them; it gives them something in common. Relationships are often based on commonality. By giving the characters an inside joke, and letting the reader in on it, they’ll look for references to that joke throughout the book. I like to think of this as a thread that pulls them through the story.

Example: Michael Hurst and his assistant Jane Smythe-Haughton have a unique relationship. He’s an explorer. Think Indiana Jones. And she keeps his life running smoothly. She is charming and sunny and he is no nonsense. She doesn’t put up with his crap. In fact, she gives as good as she gets.

So what’s the inside joke? Though he acts as if he could live without her, she knows he can’t and she calls his bluff. They call each other silly names over the course of the book. They’re not menacing, rather playful. Always keeping each other in check. He’ll call her a “fainthearted twit,” to which she promptly replies “cravated grump.” And they go on and on with their tenderhearted insults.

This happens over and over throughout the course of the book, not over doing it, but showing that these two have spent a lot of time in each other’s company and that they understand each other. They respect each other. They pick at each other. This works for the story and I found myself looking for these “spitfire” moments between the two of them.

Give your characters habits.

Why it works: we all have habits. Twirling our hair, biting our nails, worrying our lower lip. Habits make us human, good or bad. Readers will begin to anticipate characters making those habits and if the habits mean something (for instance, I twirl my hair when I’m deep in thought) they can read the character’s mood without you having to tell them what the mood is.

Look for habits everywhere. Search on the web. Think about friends and family. Ask for suggestions via facebook or twitter.

Example: As Taming a Scottish Princess begins, Michael is at a ball and he’s tugged at his tie. Okay, okay it’s a cravat, but the point is, he does this several times during the course of the story. He does it when he’s impatient. And ultimately, that garment comes in handy, but you’ll have to read the book to find out why. I don’t want to give all the good stuff away.

Vary your dialog.

Why it works: A person’s speech can be as unique as a fingerprint. Do you have a phrase you use often? Perhaps you don’t even notice it. Ask someone who spends a lot of time with you. Give your characters a favorite phrase, a level of formality in their speech or even an accent and then carry it (or change it) over the course of the story.

Example: Michael is English with Scottish ancestors. Jane is Scottish with an English mother. Both of them have spent extensive time traveling the world but over the course of the story, Michael finds out that Jane is Scottish. As she talks about her homeland, her old accent comes out. When they travel to Scotland, they meet a character named Mrs. Farquhar and she has a thick accent, an accent that the author plays up. In this scene there are three people and you can tell who’s talking without any sort of dialog tag. Why? Because they each “sound” different through their accent and language.

So there you have it. Three quick and easy tips to take your novel from ordinary to extraordinary, engrossing your readers from the first page to the last.

Alice can be found on her Facebook and Twitter.