How to reward your audience for paying attention to your plot
I’ll be writing about the video How much description should you put in your prose? How to reward your audience. How to write a satisfying book. SPOILERS – Buffy The Vampire Slayer, from the writing advice series I’m doing on YouTube with Jonathan McKinney.
When your reader or view is particularly observant and notices the small details in your story, you can reward them by making those small details pay off later in a way that is really satisfying. It takes time and effort, but it’s worth it.
Taking the time to reward your audience in this way it’s a way of showing them that you respect them, because you value your audience and you want to put the effort into making the story as satisfying as possible for them. It demonstrates that you are putting in time and attention to that story, designing it for their pleasure.
The small details you’ll use don’t necessarily have to be in your story, and if a reader misses them it won’t matter, because they story will still make sense. But if you DO notice, and you DO realise what’s been done with those small moments, it’ll improve your experience of the story a lot.
A good example to use for this is the Orb Of Thesulah in Season 2 of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, so if you’ve not seen it, this will spoil the hell out of it. Also, if you haven’t seen it, a lot of this won’t make much sense…so basically I recommend watching the show anyway because it’s brilliant plus then you’ll understand why this is a good example.
The first time we see the Orb Of Thesulah is when Jenny Calendar goes to the magic shop to buy one, and is told by the shop owner that most people who shop there are just pretenders without any real magic, and he’s been selling the orbs as new age paperweights. Jenny wants to use the orb to restore the soul of Angel, but he kills her before she has a chance. Later, when Buffy and her friends want to perform the same spell, they say they need an Orb Of Thesulah and Giles reveals he already has one, and he’s been using it as a paperweight.
This little beat isn’t super important to the plot, they could have either gone and bought one or just used the one Giles happens to own without that moment being harked back to, but by referencing it they are acknowledging to the audience that the know they remember, and that it matters that they remember. It also accomplishes a joke in a serious and painful story, because Giles has always been the one with all the magic and knowledge, but is revealed to actually do the same as the fakes, which is funny.
If you don’t notice the joke, or don’t remember the conversation Jenny had had in an earlier episode, it wouldn’t ruin your experience of the story, and everything would still make sense. It is just taking the time to make those people who have remembered have a better time.
It’s often referred to as “folding in.” So, if your character needs anything at the end of the story, for any reason, go back during editing and fold it into the earlier part of your story. Or, if you write something into your story in the beginning, try and make use of it at the end of your story. Taking the time and effort to do it is narratively satisfying, and rewards your audience for paying attention.
Ultimately, making your story extra satisfying is worth taking the time for, and acknowledging your audience and respecting them by making the effort is how to win over a loyal fanbase. You love your readers or your viewers, so respect them by trying as hard as you can to make it an enjoyable experience.