Four Ways to Engage Fiction Readers


From listening to my readers and following book reviews, four key topics repeatedly surface. While they’re not new ideas, they contain basic value in creating fictional worlds.

Readers wish to be swept away from their normal reality.

If readers wish to be swept away from their normal reality, our fiction has to contain something compelling or unique. This element must be intentional, not just something we hope for in our writing. And it should be identifiable. It can be an unusual setting or a fresh plot idea. Or how about an uplifting theme or a unique friendship? In order to offer something fresh yet appealing, I find it helpful to identify my readers and understand my genre.

Not only that, once we’ve swept readers off their feet, we must protect their experience by keeping them airborne—in their fictional world. They trust us not to let them come crashing back to earth without warning. Good writing remains invisible while creating a safety-net of lasting and vivid impressions. In other words, we must be careful not to do anything to draw them out of the story and ruin their fictional experience.

Readers need their emotions engaged and gratified.

 In order to engage and gratify readers’ emotions, we must create fascinating characters with whom they can identify—because they are looking for an emotional connection with the story. Our stories, and especially our endings, must not leave them up in the air, but provide emotional satisfaction and resolution. Again, we target the emotions associated with our genre. Suspense readers are looking for the adrenalin rush. They enjoy a short fall as long as they land safely in the end. Romance readers need to set their feet back on earth with a contented sigh.

Readers expect a takeaway.

 Readers also expect a story takeaway. When they have to come back to reality, they want something to take with them to enrich their everyday lives. It can be a spiritual theme that gives them hope in the real world. For a mystery, it might be an unexpected and intriguing twist. In women’s fiction, it might be a distinct image that provokes further thought or action—such as a family that solves their problems around the dinner table. While we foremost entertain, it’s this lingering takeaway that lives on inside our readers’ minds and excites them to spread the word about our stories. It compels them to follow our works.

Readers want to know more about authors.

Readers want to connect with us. It’s humbly amazing, and it’s the source of our greatest blessings. There’s something very intimate in the breath of story, the giving and taking that goes into the entire fictional experience. As authors, we’re sensitive beings who delight in the wonder and fear of it. And so we gladly leave our signature—a link for readers to interact with us or find out more about our writing.

What else? What do readers want from fiction?

20 Replies to “Four Ways to Engage Fiction Readers”

  1. Great post, Diane! I think readers also want to relate to the character, to feel an understanding for what’s happening–for how the character is dealing with a situation. Personally, I get more out of investigating a subject matter through fiction than through non-fiction. Fiction speaks to me, non-fiction preaches. I prefer to be spoken to than preached at.

    1. I agree Megan. I use the Enneagram method (personality types) to understand my characters so that they don’t all act or react like I would in situations, trying to keep it real. I like your comment that fiction is useful for more than entertainment.

  2. What a great round-up of practical tips. I love looking at the question from the reader’s experience rather than perfect craft. Knowing WHY we want to do something provides the motivation to figure out how to do it. You’ve given the WHY.

    1. Practical…kind of like flossing. LOL. Regarding the why – book reviews, good or bad, place us in the readers’ minds. Speaking of getting inside somebody’s mind reminds me of your blog posts, Olivia, on “Mama Says”.

  3. A very useful list of pointers for editing a manuscript. Of course, I will utilise it.

    In fiction, I don’t want coincidence even though they obtain in real life. Writers escape tight corners with them, that is, for the convenience of being published but to be floored later in reviews and also sales.

    1. I love the idea of EDITING with the readers in mind. And you’re right about not taking short cuts such as the “coincidence”. If a reader feels cheated, the author will certainly hear about it in the reviews.

  4. Great list, Dianne. I try to deliver all these in my stories. Whether I have achieved my goal or not remains to be seen. What’s fun is the last point: connecting with our readers. In today’s world that’s easy to do. I look forward to communicating directly with my readers on my blog and on social media sites.

    1. And you do such a great job of communicating online. Your readers are going to love interacting with you.We feel your enthusiasm and warmth.

  5. Maybe not new ideas, but critical to keep fresh in mind. Thank you for summarizing these basic, crucial truths, and I agree, Olivia, it’s interesting to view this from a reader’s perspective. Before I plot my next story, I want to muse on these awhile… and re-read or find new books that nail these qualities for added emphasis.

    One of the most unusual settings I’ve read that kept me “spellbound,” if you will, was in A River Rising by Athol Dickson. If you haven’t read it, I won’t give it away as it’s an incredible twist in the midst of the story. It’s so true that we as readers feel most engaged when we can identify in a tangible with the character, so the more universal the struggle, the better. Thanks for the practical wisdom, Dianne!

    1. Camille, you’ve added some great points. I always dig out my plot and character books at the beginning of the process. If I can see what’s missing, it gives me added inspiration.

  6. Your first point is one I wrestle with continually. I spent so long focusing on trying to write romance and finding myself longing for real-world characters (i.e., not Adonis) that I’ve really begun to focus my writing on ordinary life, and ordinary situations. The advice is nearly universal: take people AWAY from ordinary reality–but the books that stay with me longest always have a quality of the ordinary about them, because it applies to *my* life, instead of simply being escapism.

    Perhaps we’re all talking at the same point from different angles. But I always wonder if I’m the lone person in the world who feels this way!

    1. Thanks for sharing Kathleen. Yes!! We are talking about the same thing from different angles. And it spurs our imagination to poke at something from a new perspective. I write romance, too. I get it.

  7. Dianne,
    So, so many good things to think about in this post. Balancing all of this — and all the other things too — is the challenge. I guess that’s why we have to remember we don’t ever arrive as writers. We keep learning, honing our craft. (That’s not a cliche, it’s a goal to strive for all the time!)

    1. That’s so true, Beth. We learn during the writing process. Afterwards, we learn from what others say about our writing. Even without the balancing aspect, some of it falls away and has to be relearned until it sticks (for me, at least). So it is ongoing, but oh so rewarding.

  8. Very good. I want all those things from the books I read. I truly hope my stories do that. It’s why I like to write; to be swept away, to go to the other reality, to find the emotional conclusion.

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