Have No Mercy, Steal Their Hearts

How do you urge readers to flip to the next page?

. . . Why, you make them care, of course.

Yeah, I figured that much. But how do you make them care?

. . . That’s easy. Engage their mind, heart, and curiosity as early in the story as possible.

Right, but how?

. . . Hmmm, well, TO ME, it takes . . .

1_ Voice: The unique, authentic perspective of your character. Tone can be an element of “voice” as it is the attitude exhibited in the narrative, description, exposition, and dialogue.

2Conflict: The internal and external struggles, dilemmas, stakes, tension. The juicy stuff, and nothing but the juicy stuff.

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3_ Mood: The emotions and atmosphere

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4_ Conciseness: Get to the point. Don’t waste time exemplifying how pretty you write. Get to the story.

5_ Setting: Tickle the reader’s five senses without losing focus of getting to the point.

6_ Reliability and validity in a genre: Be true to your selected genre. Make the main focus, or plot, of your story evident, whether it’s surviving, solving a crime/mystery, developing a relationship, saving a world/people, honing an identity, gaining an understanding, dealing with the strange, or what have you.

If I buy a fantasy book that’s more focused on a freakin’ love triangle, I’m not going to be happy. And it’s not because I’m anti-romance.

Here’s a scenario: I’m running late, but before I race out the front door, I go to my fridge for some orange juice. I grab a carton without paying attention, take a swig, and gag at the taste of milk — NOT because I hate milk, NOT because I have no respect for the other people in my household, BUT BECAUSE I was expecting something else.

Don’t let your story be that milk.

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7_ Natural flow/plot: Each chapter should have its own story arc. Each sentence and paragraph should lead to the next. EVERY WORD SHOULD COUNT AND MAKE SENSE TO THE OVERALL PICTURE. Readers want to be hooked, but we want a plausible story (even if it’s fantasy). I can’t speak for the rest of you, but I want to get to know the character(s) a bit and find a reason to care about what’s going on before the writer tries to punch my stomach or poke my neck with an action-packed scene. The story breathes more life when I care, and I care when the story doesn’t seem forced.

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MY EXAMPLE (without reading the blurb or looking at the cover):

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If an entire nation could seek its freedom, why not a girl?

As the Revolutionary War begins, thirteen-year-old Isabel wages her own fight…for freedom. Promised freedom upon the death of their owner, she and her sister, Ruth, in a cruel twist of fate become the property of a malicious NewYork City couple, the Locktons, who have no sympathy for the American Revolution and even less for Ruth and Isabel. When Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the Patriots, he encourages her to spy on her owners, who know details of British plans for invasion. She is reluctant at first, but when the unthinkable happens to Ruth, Isabel realizes her loyalty is available to the bidder who can provide her with freedom.

 Chains” by Laurie Halse Anderson

1. Voice/character:

  • Word choice: “Momma” and saying the stars “blinked—> The MC (named Isabel, a very beautiful name) immediately seems Southern and young (probably black; implied, not stated) as she narrates the travel towards Miss Mary’s funeral (her late owner)
  • Limited details about the physical/mental condition of her sister: This shows that not all is well, but Isabel knows how to hold back; there’s a time and a place for everything.
  • Strong yet reserved opinions of the way Mr. Robert (a greedy, distant relative) handled Miss Mary’s death; he didn’t hesitate to take advantage
  • Religious, mystical, willing to seek help from her deceased mother who’s buried on the opposite side of the cemetery
  • Wary of letting others see her cry

2. Conflict:

  • Needed permission from Mr. Robert to go pay respects to her deceased loved one
  • Mother buried without a proper marker —> aspired to pay stone carver one day
  • Mentioned that this was the day “they” were waiting for (for what exactly, we’re left in the dark)
  • Kept her cool (even within her narrative), but once she was by her momma’s grave, she had an urgent air around her
  • Robert grabbed her from her mother’s grave and told her to go to the “White” side to pray for the woman who’d owned her
  • Held back on explicitly saying what she plans to do now that Miss Mary’s dead (seems major to the plot)
  • I cared enough to read chapter two, and I’m officially hooked after that chapter. This seems like it’ll be a “must-read”

3. Mood:

  • Anticipation; a need to stay alert
  • Something is bound to happen
  • Gradual build up

4. Getting to the point:

  • Chapter two does this more, but chapter one’s only five pages.
  • The point (from what I gathered): What are Isabel and her sister going to do now that their “owner” is dead — and will Mr. Robert get in the way?

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5. Setting:

  • Limited focus on the darkening sky, the squeaky wagon, and Mr. Robert trailing behind them on an ominous saddle of foreshadowing
  • Later on, smelt the salty ocean, felt the damp ground, and heard buzzing bees and mooing cows in the distance
  • But I felt like I was “watching” the scene in a Caillou-like way (blurred edges). I couldn’t get a full sense of what was happening around her, especially regarding the path they were traveling on.

6. Being true to her genre:

  • Historical YA (as you can see above, I noted that right away)

Featured imageReally, I want to know what you think about this.

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3 comments on “Have No Mercy, Steal Their Hearts

  1. I hate story milk…and yes, that’s now a thing I’m using.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] Don’t force out a scene or a story. There’s a reason you’re blocked and things aren’t flowing. Practice some […]


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