On this blog every Tuesday and Friday I write about story techniques, structure, and/or publishing. Comments and questions are welcome. I also have a personal blog, Amy Deardon, on which I write about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy.

I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research.

My book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story, is now available in both hard-copy and e-book formats. I also coach would-be novelists and screenwriters to develop their story. YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Why Should the Reader Care About Your Story?

Why Should the Reader Care About Your Story?

The Story Question: the overarching question of whether the protagonist will or will not reach his goal, is the string that pulls the reader through your story. The Story Question is something that can be unequivocally answered, yes or no by the end of the story: Will Taylor be able to convince Kristen to marry him? Will Donna be able to realize her dream of being a rock star? Will the X-Thumpers be able to save their home world Terranthia from the invading evil aliens? Your protagonist will actively pursue this story goal, encounter many obstacles, bravely fight, learn something about him- or herself, and ultimately triumph (or not, although failure stories don't tend to be popular unless there is a compensatory win -- think Rocky).

Once you have a good story question you're almost there: you only need to make the reader care about whether the story question is answered. To do this, you make the reader care about the protagonist, and therefore since the protagonist cares about the story question the reader or viewer will also.

OK, so how do you make someone care about your protagonist? The quick answer is not necessarily to make him likeable, but instead to make him someone with whom the reader or viewer can admire or identify with to understand why he does what he does in the story. There are several techniques you as the writer can use:

1. Create Sympathy -- if your protagonist suffers from something, whether an injustice, a physical defect, or a terrible loss of some sort, this will go a long way to create reader identification because the reader will feel sorry for him and therefore of course want him to win.

2. Jeopardy -- any time a character is in real danger, whether physical or emotional threat, the audience is riveted.

3. Capable -- we all tend to admire capable people, and this is no different in stories. The person may behave well, or be funny, or be good at his job, or whatever -- he has positive traits that the viewer can appreciate. If he is pleasant or charming (not always the same thing), rather than unpleasant, this is even better.

Two examples of characters that are not "good" or "likeable," and yet riveting, are Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind, and Salieri in the 1984 movie Amadeus. Scarlett didn't care who she hurt as long as she could run her life. Salieri was obsessed with wanting to be the best, and yet not being able to be. We don't agree with what they do, but we understand.

Another thing to remember is that a story question, and the protagonist, need to be established in your story as early as possible. Your audience quickly needs to have someone to root for, and know something they want to do -- otherwise your story is irrelevant and at risk of being abandoned by your reader.


  1. Thank you for your Story Template blog, Amy. I'm enjoying it so much and also learning a great deal from your interesting posts.

    Best wishes

    Ruth Ann

  2. Hi Amy!

    I read about The Story Template at A Christian Writer's World :).

    I'm very interested in your article and can take pdf.

    jennifer at quiverfullfamily dot com