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Making your reader care— are there tricks to learn from each genre? (1 Viewer)

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Llyralen

Senior Member
It seems like in each genre there are some semi-standard questions that are set up that you expect to get answers to? Is this true? Expecting these questions to be answered seems to help the reader be willing to hang in there for the ride.

—For thrillers: The big questions like: “Is he really going to get away?” Even though you really already know he is going to get away. Or “is he going to get the bad guy?”

—Romances: “Are they going to get together?” They always will, right? But you want to see how that will happen and the obstacles that happen. It’s about tension, like the thriller.

—Mysteries— “Will I figure out from the clues given what the author is thinking?”

—Psychological thriller and probably horror “How weird with me still kind of believing it is this going to get?”

—Fantasy: “Does the protagonist win? Does good conquer evil? “ all with magic and a new world in the background. “Does the magic system work?” might even be a reason to read for some. Wonder or wonderful imaginative things might be expected along with it.

—Sci-Fi: “Does the protagonist win? Does good conquer evil?” All playing out in another world. “Does the science work?” Might be a reason for some to read it. A sense of wonder is expected.

And then we get to personality-driven novels— I think how I care is to have what the characters want set up and then see, do they get it? Is there conflict between what different people want? How does that all work out? Even in Hamlet there is some set up in motivations. I don’t know if Catcher on the Rye set up more than “Is this kid going to be okay?” but for me that was compelling. That does kind of take a question from a thriller.


What else, though? What other genres do you see set up and pay off playing out for you? Do character-driven novels benefit from using these same kinds of questions?

What else makes you care besides set up and pay off? What else gives you a reason to read it and keep reading it? I think I might only be tapping into one possible aspect.

What is your experience as a reader and caring? I love examples. Are there certain books that really made you care? Why did you care, do you think?
 

JBF

Staff member
Board Moderator
At the risk of sounding flippant, the big question in a story should be Where is this going?


Really, I think it's less about plot or genre and more about structure. At it's simplest you need a character who wants something, the obstacle in their way, and how they change on the way. Genre fiction is probably pickier about the expectation- your detective is unlikely to be popular if he can't outsmart the criminal, your romance career won't take off if the favored couple don't wind up together, your humor won't sell if your jokes aren't funny, and so forth.

What makes people care in fiction is truth. This doesn't have to be something earth-shattering or epic. Sometimes the battle for the fate of the universe takes place entirely in one character's head. Sometimes the romance is completely one-sided or the participants are catastrophically toxic together. Sometimes the war story ends with the hero's forces disarming and casing their colors after an enemy victory.

So long as the reader can relate to a character and their conflict, they'll invest. This is why so many rookie mistakes kill stories - the protagonist is too smart, too beautiful, too rich, too powerful. The supermodel who has bad luck in love isn't near as sympathetic as the woman who comes home from after working third shift at the Quick-E-Mart and looks in her mirror and and wonders if anybody would ever want what she sees. The general leading the army is often less interesting than the draftee private whose life was completely upended by a war he didn't start and probably won't survive. A spacefaring band of traders motoring through the rough side of the galaxy when their spaceboat is constantly falling apart has more at stake than the crew of the U.S.S. SpaceNimitz.

Show me a character who looks like they've missed a bill. Or said something they can't take back to someone they love. Who sometimes marks up a win despite themselves. Who doesn't always get it right, and sometimes doesn't know or care.
 

druid12000

Senior Member
It seems like in each genre there are some semi-standard questions that are set up that you expect to get answers to? Is this true? Expecting these questions to be answered seems to help the reader be willing to hang in there for the ride.

—For thrillers: The big questions like: “Is he really going to get away?” Even though you really already know he is going to get away. Or “is he going to get the bad guy?”

—Romances: “Are they going to get together?” They always will, right? But you want to see how that will happen and the obstacles that happen. It’s about tension, like the thriller.

—Mysteries— “Will I figure out from the clues given what the author is thinking?”

—Psychological thriller and probably horror “How weird with me still kind of believing it is this going to get?”

—Fantasy: “Does the protagonist win? Does good conquer evil? “ all with magic and a new world in the background. “Does the magic system work?” might even be a reason to read for some. Wonder or wonderful imaginative things might be expected along with it.

—Sci-Fi: “Does the protagonist win? Does good conquer evil?” All playing out in another world. “Does the science work?” Might be a reason for some to read it. A sense of wonder is expected.

And then we get to personality-driven novels— I think how I care is to have what the characters want set up and then see, do they get it? Is there conflict between what different people want? How does that all work out? Even in Hamlet there is some set up in motivations. I don’t know if Catcher on the Rye set up more than “Is this kid going to be okay?” but for me that was compelling. That does kind of take a question from a thriller.


What else, though? What other genres do you see set up and pay off playing out for you? Do character-driven novels benefit from using these same kinds of questions?

What else makes you care besides set up and pay off? What else gives you a reason to read it and keep reading it? I think I might only be tapping into one possible aspect.

What is your experience as a reader and caring? I love examples. Are there certain books that really made you care? Why did you care, do you think?

I never really thought about it much before reading 'War and Peace', but I need characters (God, at least one!) that I like, that have something to redeem them. It's getting slightly better but I have slogged through a quarter of this story and really, really want to slap them all repeatedly.

I mostly read fantasy/sci-fi and horror, but I do enjoy other genres. I think in all cases it comes down to whether the writer effectively creates characters I can either relate to or can find a reason to invest the time in. I'm pretty easy to please, but if the characters are wooden, two dimensional posers, I'm out. I really don't know why I'm still investing time in 'War and Peace', I guess I have an expectation of 'something great' or a revelation to come.
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
What about characters we dislike? What if we don’t relate? Don’t we still watch to find out if the villain does or does not do the thing we were dreading (set up)?

What if we dislike the protagonist yet keep reading? Who has had that experience?

I certainly did not relate to Scarlet O’Hara... just wanted to see how far she would go. I don’t think I liked Bathsheba Everdene but I really love Far From the Madding Crowd. Was she going to succeed? Seeing how far other characters went in that story was very interesting.
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
At the risk of sounding flippant, the big question in a story should be Where is this going?


Really, I think it's less about plot or genre and more about structure. At it's simplest you need a character who wants something, the obstacle in their way, and how they change on the way. Genre fiction is probably pickier about the expectation- your detective is unlikely to be popular if he can't outsmart the criminal, your romance career won't take off if the favored couple don't wind up together, your humor won't sell if your jokes aren't funny, and so forth.

What makes people care in fiction is truth. This doesn't have to be something earth-shattering or epic. Sometimes the battle for the fate of the universe takes place entirely in one character's head. Sometimes the romance is completely one-sided or the participants are catastrophically toxic together. Sometimes the war story ends with the hero's forces disarming and casing their colors after an enemy victory.

So long as the reader can relate to a character and their conflict, they'll invest. This is why so many rookie mistakes kill stories - the protagonist is too smart, too beautiful, too rich, too powerful. The supermodel who has bad luck in love isn't near as sympathetic as the woman who comes home from after working third shift at the Quick-E-Mart and looks in her mirror and and wonders if anybody would ever want what she sees. The general leading the army is often less interesting than the draftee private whose life was completely upended by a war he didn't start and probably won't survive. A spacefaring band of traders motoring through the rough side of the galaxy when their spaceboat is constantly falling apart has more at stake than the crew of the U.S.S. SpaceNimitz.

Show me a character who looks like they've missed a bill. Or said something they can't take back to someone they love. Who sometimes marks up a win despite themselves. Who doesn't always get it right, and sometimes doesn't know or care.

This reminds me of something I just watched comparing the cartoon Mulan with the recent live action explaining that since she was normal, not gifted, in the first movie it made you able to root for her. The video maker used the word Empowerment and I agree. I also like how you put what you said here very much.

Here’s the link if anyone is interested although your post covered it well: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ZccG-wtt5FA
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
What about characters we dislike? What if we don’t relate? Don’t we still watch to find out if the villain does or does not do the thing we were dreading (set up)?

What if we dislike the protagonist yet keep reading? Who has had that experience?

I certainly did not relate to Scarlet O’Hara... just wanted to see how far she would go. I don’t think I liked Bathsheba Everdene but I really love Far From the Madding Crowd. Was she going to succeed? Seeing how far other characters went in that story was very interesting.

Good antagonists we dislike, which is a sort of relationship, and we root against them. It's the same thing as with protagonists, just moving in the opposite direction.

The one exception (for me) was Creed by James Herbert. The protagonist was a creep - a paparazzi - but he was also a goof and would get himself into these dangerous, yet hilarious situations. I didn't care for him at all, yet the book was really entertaining.

My WIP has two MC's that are awful people, one is a ruthless murderer and the other is a cheater and manipulator. The book is about their redemption. It's a risk for me, but I hope it works.
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
Good antagonists we dislike, which is a sort of relationship, and we root against them. It's the same thing as with protagonists, just moving in the opposite direction.

The one exception (for me) was Creed by James Herbert. The protagonist was a creep - a paparazzi - but he was also a goof and would get himself into these dangerous, yet hilarious situations. I didn't care for him at all, yet the book was really entertaining.

My WIP has two MC's that are awful people, one is a ruthless murderer and the other is a cheater and manipulator. The book is about their redemption. It's a risk for me, but I hope it works.

Okay so we know we can read an entire book at the edge of our seats even with dislike of the characters. Why would you read a book like that yourself? Why have you before?

Is it about setting up the stakes?
 
One of my favourite books is Norwegian Wood by Murakami. There are many parts i didn't particularly enjoy, it wasn't a love story as such but i kept turning the pages because of the world murakami painted.

I remember reading it the first time, and i don't have a soft spot for the narrator nor think he is anything special yet murakami's style of writing captivated me.

A friend who is much more knowledgeable than myself in writing, said that the narrator, the story teller, must be real and likeable yet i only found the main character as relatable but it made me think; to make a good story you need to build the world people can believe in and the narrator like your normal Joe down the street.

The mastery of reading to the reader, and opening up what was inside the narrator's mind drew me in. Did i care for the narrator? I couldn't say i did yet i turned the pages because the world murakami painted was brilliant.
 

MistWolf

Senior Member
Before we start a Sherlock Holmes story, we know the bad guy gets caught. We read the story because we want to see HOW he gets caught
 
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Llyralen

Senior Member
Before we start a Sherlock Holmes story, we know the bad guy gets caught. We read there story because we want to see HOW he gets caught


We know what the stakes are and we want to see how it plays out is how I think this works. I really am looking hard at the importance(or the impact to the reader) of setting up expectations.
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
One of my favourite books is Norwegian Wood by Murakami. There are many parts i didn't particularly enjoy, it wasn't a love story as such but i kept turning the pages because of the world murakami painted.

I remember reading it the first time, and i don't have a soft spot for the narrator nor think he is anything special yet murakami's style of writing captivated me.

A friend who is much more knowledgeable than myself in writing, said that the narrator, the story teller, must be real and likeable yet i only found the main character as relatable but it made me think; to make a good story you need to build the world people can believe in and the narrator like your normal Joe down the street.

The mastery of reading to the reader, and opening up what was inside the narrator's mind drew me in. Did i care for the narrator? I couldn't say i did yet i turned the pages because the world murakami painted was brilliant.

I’m trying to think if I’ve ever just liked the world that was created enough to read it just for that. I think with historical fiction then, yes. The strangeness and intrigue of a past culture if it’s accurate has made me hang on. We basically know what will happen, but all the differences between that time and now and putting yourself into that culture is what is interesting. I think Harry Potter was also so inventive. I cared about the characters and their friendships, though too. While I’m writing this I’m watching The Storyteller created by Jim Henson and it’s so inventive and interesting that the art is keeping me going. The story is okay, but told in a way that kind of distracts from the story, imo.


How much do expectations play in Harry PottER? Well you want to see what new tricks Voldemort has for Harry (those expectations are set), you also want to see if any grown ups will defend Harry, how the friendships work out.. yeah, there is set up. J.K. Writes the first ones somewhat like mysteries as well. So you’re trying to piece together clues.



I went on Goodreads and read some quotes from Norwegion Woods because of your description.
 
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indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Okay so we know we can read an entire book at the edge of our seats even with dislike of the characters. Why would you read a book like that yourself? Why have you before?

Is it about setting up the stakes?

Controversial perspective: good and bad are a matter of perspective. Often, what is good for one is bad for another.

People have more depth than cartoon characters, like Dudley Do Right and Snideley Whiplash, and frankly, I’ve always found villains more interesting than heroes. I have written thoroughly dislikeable villains, but always gave them a motive for their actions.

ive read books like this because the stories were compelling and the characters complex. Consider Gone with the Wind for example. Scarlet was a terrible person, and yet people loved her journey. The most iconic character in Star Wars was Darth Vader. It’s about the story and characters that’s what draws me in.
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
ive read books like this because the stories were compelling and the characters complex. Consider Gone with the Wind for example. Scarlet was a terrible person, and yet people loved her journey. The most iconic character in Star Wars was Darth Vader. It’s about the story and characters that’s what draws me in.

What made the story compelling though? Why do we like Gone with the Wind? These are the questions I to look at. We knew the stakes, we knew the motivations and there was expectation. Looking at expectations that were dashed for Star Wars, the ones with the dialogue written by George Lucas would be relevant. We were expecting witty banter, romantic tension (not the kind that made me want to scratch Hayden Christiansen’s face), more realistic and flawed yet interesting characters. What a let-down, right? Let’s look at that some more. Set up but awful pay-off. Aren’t we hoping to see how we will be paid off.
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
A book is like a journey. You want to know where that journey is going. It’s like if you left your house to buy a candy thermometer so you could make caramel apples for Halloween. Or if you left your house, got in your car with no intent to do anything. Nothing happening. You don’t know where you’re going, you’re just driving around. I think it’s like that. If you know what you’re after the things that happen along the way take on significance or can be entertaining as long as you know what you’re after.

Even Lord of the Rings you know fairly early what you’re getting yourself into. You know when the book will end is when the ring will get destroyed. We can take all sorts of turns but if that part got forgotten then the story wouldn’t end

its kind of like getting in a train knowing that train will take you to London. We know it will have a beginning middle end. . We are planning to be on the whole ride. But if we had no clue where the train was going then a bunch of us would bail. Setting up expectations. You need them, I think. There’s nothing worse than not knowing where a story is going or feeling like a story isn’t getting anywhere.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
An old movie from the 60’s I liked was: Colossus the Forbin Project. An AI computer takes over the US and the USSR nuclear weapons. In the end the computer wins, and humanity is doomed. I liked the movie because the characters were interesting, the plot compelling, and the conclusion realistic.
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
An old movie from the 60’s I liked was: Colossus the Forbin Project. An AI computer takes over the US and the USSR nuclear weapons. In the end the computer wins, and humanity is doomed. I liked the movie because the characters were interesting, the plot compelling, and the conclusion realistic.

That’s a good set-up to watch what happens. What was compelling about the plot? What was interesting about the characters? See what I’m after? I’m after figuring out what makes something compelling or interesting. Why do we experience it that way?
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
What about characters we dislike? What if we don’t relate? Don’t we still watch to find out if the villain does or does not do the thing we were dreading (set up)?

What if we dislike the protagonist yet keep reading? Who has had that experience?

I certainly did not relate to Scarlet O’Hara... just wanted to see how far she would go. I don’t think I liked Bathsheba Everdene but I really love Far From the Madding Crowd. Was she going to succeed? Seeing how far other characters went in that story was very interesting.

Absolutely. In Jaws (the book) the shark carried the show. None of the human characters were very attractive. I'd certainly never have read it out of concern for their lives. Hannibal Lecter. Sethos in the Amelia Peabody series. If you go to screenplays, examples abound, such as Khan in Star Trek, and Darth Vader.
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
Absolutely. In Jaws (the book) the shark carried the show. None of the human characters were very attractive. I'd certainly never have read it out of concern for their lives. Hannibal Lecter. Sethos in the Amelia Peabody series. If you go to screenplays, examples abound, such as Khan in Star Trek, and Darth Vader.

Great examples. “Are they going to get killed?” And you know they are, but you want to see who and how. I kind of love Khan. But why do we keep watching? What are the circumstances or elements of story telling that compels us to keep watching? I am really examining the importance of expectations here. Do you think expectations have a hand in how interesting the stories are?
 
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