The Invested Reader
I was thinking about how to engage a reader in the story, and something occurred to me. What makes a reader become engaged is an investment. I don't mean money by investment, but I'm using a money term to highlight a point.
Imagine that you and a friend are playing a simple game of dice. The object of the game is to see who rolls the highest number. That doesn't sound very exciting for fun. I would guess that most people would not play this game for very long without becoming bored. If anyone walked by, they probably would not be interested in watching either, but I have seen crowds gathered around the craps table at casinos that were excited about every toss of the dice. I've seen gamblers obsessed with games that, in reality, are not very exciting to play or watch. Why?
Because players invested money in the game, players have cash on the line. People watching from the sidelines are equally excited even when they have not placed bets because they can relate to the situation. They are eager to watch because the gambler is risking something they both value.
I remember an old cartoon that was on television years ago that I always thought was stupid. The show was about a card game that was popular at the time. The show was popular with kids who played the game, but it seemed stupid and pointless for people who had never played it like me. That is why some things will feel important to one group of people and not to another. One group has something invested in those things while others do not.
I have heard this called finding your target audience in literature, but how do you find that audience? It is simple. Figure out what is essential to your target audience and write about that.
Investing your reader can make characters more relatable, plots more engaging, and conflict more exciting. Even a simple character can become endearing if you can find a way to make your reader become invested in them. In contrast, a more compelling character can fall flat if the reader cannot relate to them.
There is another cartoon that aired a long time ago that I also thought was stupid. The theme song had this verse that said something about saving the digital world. When I heard the song, I thought, why would someone want to save the digital world? The digital world isn't my world. It sounds like it isn't even real, like something from a video game, so why does it matter if it gets saved or not?
If the story were about saving my world, then I would be a little more invested. I live in this world, and if it were in danger, of course, that would concern me. Even then, the whole save the world concept seems so big that it is hard to relate to the idea. What if the story instead was about a hero trying to save his town or his family? Doesn't that hit a little closer to home? It is easier to relate to a concept that is like something that we have personally experienced. Then we can connect emotionally with the character better. The more personal it is, the better. That is why I say that the key to hooking readers into the story is to find a way to get them invested.