Reader Questions – Why You Want Them!
by Julie Shepard, author of Rosie Girl
Before you read this, I have a job for you: Pick out a book on your shelf (or in your Kindle!) and read the first few pages. That’s it. Then ask yourself: What am I wondering about? What has the author mentioned that’s piqued my curiosity? What questions do I want (or better yet—need) answers to? Because if you don’t have any, chances are you won’t be reading any further. It will become a part the dreaded “set aside” books. And do you really want that to be the fate of your book?
Let’s analyze Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow:
We find our main character in a rehab facility. I’ll even mention the fact that Ms. Glasgow holds off for several pages before telling the reader her name (Charlie). Bonus points for that! We’re wondering a lot of things, simply because this girl is in a hospital. Why is she there? How did she get there? As we read further, more questions take shape because the author begins to give us more information. That’s a good thing: More information shouldn’t just tell the reader things—it should cause the reader to ask more questions. And more questions mean more pages read. And more pages read mean your entire book will get read, which is your goal. (Reviews are another thing!)
So, back to Charlie. She lived on the street. She kept company with a bunch of guys and a girl named Ellis. You may not even realize you’re asking questions, but your brain is firing off tons of them: What was the relationship between these people? Who was good, bad, friend, or foe? Was someone jealous, beautiful, a train wreck? You’re also seeking answers to more subtle issues: Do I like this main character? Do I want to hop on this journey with her? Is she—aside from whatever personal demons led her to end up in a hospital—basically good? Does she have to be in order for you to want to follow her story? Is she a victim, a con artist, a drug addict? Do you even care?
You thought your goal was to write a book. It’s not. It’s to write a story that creates questions like these for your reader. Sprinkle in answers while creating new ones. Just as we start to get a sense of the relationship Charlie had with Ellis and these boys, the author mentions Charlie’s mother, which unleashes a whole new set of questions. Where is she? Did she hospitalize her own daughter? What’s their relationship like? You always want your reader wondering, searching, hypothesizing. By creating questions, you’re creating actively-engaged readers.
Here’s a challenge: Share your first five pages with someone who has not read any of your manuscript, and ask them to jot down at least three questions (the more, the better!) they already have at this point. These could be plot-related or character-related. They’re equally important, because people read for a variety of reasons and tune into different elements that pique their interest—the promise of love, the suspicion of murder, the heartache of loss. Then ask yourself: Have I answered their questions, and when? There’s a fine line between satisfying a reader’s curiosity too soon and frustrating them by making them wait too long for a payoff.
Few of us would admit it, but I will. There are books I haven’t finished. It’s not because they weren’t “good”. It was because I either stopped asking questions or stopped wanting answers to the ones I still had. Take a moment to reflect on those books you partially read. Do you remember what captured your interest? How did the author lose it? Perhaps the answer will be just what you need to make sure your book never becomes a part of anyone’s dreaded pile of “set asides”.
Julie Shepard began her writing career on a Smith Corona typewriter, hammering out dark stories like the twisted tale about homicidal identical twins who conspire to get away with murder. She earned a degree in English Literature from the University of Florida and a teaching degree in Middle Grades English from Florida International University. While in the classroom, she developed a keen ear for adolescent drama and knew that young adult fiction was the path her writing journey would take. She lives by the beautiful beaches of South Florida, where sunny skies often beckon her outside to do her writing on a lounge chair. Rosie Girl is her debut. You can find her at http://www.julieshepard.net
Little Peach meets We Were Liars in this haunting YA debut about a troubled teen searching for her birth mom who uncovers disturbing family secrets along the way.
After her father passes away, seventeen-year-old Rosie is forced to live with her abusive stepmom Lucy and her deadbeat boyfriend, Judd, who gives Rosie the sort of looks you shouldn’t give your girlfriend’s step-daughter. Desperate for a way out, Rosie would do just about anything to escape the life she’s been handed. Then she finds a letter her dad wrote years ago, a letter confessing that Rosie’s birth mother isn’t dead, as she believed, but alive somewhere—having left them when Rosie was a little girl for reasons he won’t reveal.
Rosie resolves to find her birth mom, and she’ll put everything on the line to make that happen. She hires a PI paid for by her best friend, Mary, who turns tricks for money. Unlike Rosie, Mary’s no delicate flower and when she sees the opportunity to make some cash and help out her closest friend, she takes it. Romance blooms when the PI Rosie hires hands the case off to his handsome nephew Mac, but Rosie struggles to keep her illicit activities with Mary a secret. Things begin to unravel when Rosie starts getting creepy anonymous texts from johns looking for Mary. And then there’s Mary, the one person Rosie can count on, who’s been acting strangely all of a sudden. As Rosie and Mary get closer to finally uncovering the truth about Rosie’s mom, Rosie comes face to face with a secret she never saw coming. With the ultimate unreliable narrator and twists and turns around every corner, Rosie Girl is an unforgettable tale of identity, devotion and desperation.
Thank you so much to Julie for writing this post! Sometimes questions can be hard for us all to listen to as authors and writers, but in reality, questions are the best occurrences that could happen to us. They not only help us improve, but they keep our readers engaged, and our books out of the “set asides” pile. =)
As always, thank you so much to everyone who has participated in this feature. We appreciate your words of advice more than you will ever know.
We hope you all have a wonderful rest of your week!