How to Know Which Parts of Your Story Readers Will Like Best (It Isn’t Always What You Think)
by K.M. Weiland - Usa
You want readers to like your story. You want to give them something to love on every single page. But it’s so much easier said than done. How can you know—really know—which parts of your story readers will like and which will have them yawning and skipping ahead?
So many stories, in all mediums, hit the market with blazing optimism from their creators. Audiences are going to love this! We’ve checked all the boxes!! We’re so excited to share something we’re so sure is going to make you so happy!!!
The optimism isn’t always well-founded. Just watch behind-the-scenes interviews on would-be blockbusters, which were intended as the first in a series only to fall flat at the box office and never be heard from again. Beforehand, directors, producers, and actors might have gushed about how certain they were audiences would geek out over their choices for the film—only to have their enthusiasm met with a big green splat on Rotten Tomatoes. Clearly, they misjudged those parts of the story they thought audiences would particularly like.
Novels don’t usually dive-bomb so obviously or spectacularly, but I can certainly think of a few sequels that failed to live up to their glorious predecessors. Mostly, this is because the authors made clunker decisions that, pretty obviously, were intended to be just the opposite.
So what are you to do? Maybe throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and hope enough sticks to keep readers happy? Or maybe just write the blithering book to the best of your ability and hope it all works out for the best?
Naturally, the latter option is the way to go. But it doesn’t have to be a blind path into the unknown. There are ways to figure out which parts of a story are mostly likely to entertain readers and which are not. And the key words here are “most likely,” because if there’s one thing you can be sure of in this business, it’s that art is subjective.
6 Ways to Figure Out Which Parts of Your Story Readers Will Like Best
Subconsciously, readers are going to judge every single one of your scenes and file each in one of three categories:
Very few stories manage the brilliance necessary to land every single scene in the Entertaining Category. The good news is that you can still create a story readers like even with a handful of Tolerable scenes and maybe even a (very) small percentage of Boring scenes.
The bad news is that the higher your Tolerable count rises, the more the book as a whole will lean toward Boring. Even if readers finish it, they’re not likely to remember it. And, of course, if the count on the Boring scenes crosses a certain invisible threshold (which is a little different for every reader or viewer), the story is bye-bye.
You can perform a rather sobering exercise by listing all your scenes and ruthlessly judging which falls into which category. Every scene that ends up in the Tolerable or Boring Categories needs some help.
And how do you help them? Here are six ways to judge whether a scene contains the stuff readers love—or the stuff they actually don’t.
1. The Best Part of Your Story Is… Your Characters
So I admit this post is kinda inspired by Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, which left me pretty meh. It’s not totally a fair example, since the film is exactly what it’s intended to be. But for my money it could have been a lot better. It just needed more of its characters—especially its most interesting characters.
Elle was fine, Pfeiffer showed admirable dental work in chewing through the scenery. But is this Maleficent’s show or not? Like so many stories these days, the protagonist appeared in a scant percentage of the actual running time. (I find it a little ironic that in a film supposed to be about the original villain of the Sleeping Beauty story, most of the story and screentime went to the new villain.) The only scenes in the movie I would chuck squarely into the Entertaining bucket were the few moments early on when Maleficent’s sidekick coached her in smiling and then later when Maleficent grudgingly tried to charm the future in-laws. After that… not too much interesting character work going on.
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