When your audience comes to your story, whether reading or watching, they won’t necessarily know what your story is about. They might have a blurb or a synopsis, but often that doesn’t tell them very much. I’m going to talk you through how to tell them quickly, and why it matters.
There are a lot of stories in the world, and we all enjoy different things. Your audience will want to know quickly whether your story is going to appeal to them or not, to avoid wasting their time and energy.
Some people absolutely love James Bond stories, but they’re not for me. Doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them, it’s just not my taste. So if I start reading a book and it immediately tells me that it’s essentially a James Bond story, I stop reading and try something else. It’s fine, no resentment, it’s just not for me.
If I spend ages trying to get through pages and pages of world building and set up, hoping it will be worth it in the end… and THEN I find out that this isn’t the story for me… then I’m grumpy. Investing time and effort to find out you won’t enjoy a story is irritating.
It’s always better to know as quickly as possible if you will want to keep reading or leave it and move on. There’s so many stories out there in the world that will entertain you, there’s no need to waste your time on something that won’t. And alienating an audience or potential reviewer is never wise.
There is a certain style of writer that likes to leave their audience confused, trying to work out what the story is about. The problem is, if you can’t tell what the story is about, you’ve no reason to invest energy in finding out.
Stories that get straight to it, plunge you directly into the conflict, leave no room for confusion. You don’t waste time trying to work out why you’re bothering to invest yourself in this story. You are told straight up, this is the character you’re investing in, and this is why you care.
Giving your audience a reason to care, and a person to care about, will hook them. Confusion might be trendy, but it’s not enticing. If you don’t know who and what you’re supposed to care about, you won’t care.
I tried to watch a series on Netflix called Maniac but I gave up after five minutes. I couldn’t figure out who the Protagonist was, I didn’t know what anybody wanted. Not knowing what I was supposed to care about meant I didn’t care. Then I tried watching Schitt’s Creek. Within the first five minutes I had been introduced to the Rose family, and learned what the story was going to be about. I understood, I cared. I stuck with it.
How To Tell Your Audience Quickly
To tell your audience what your story is about fast, you need to focus in on your Protagonist and your Antagonist. They’re the story, that’s what you are for. So take your audience directly to one of them.
You don’t have to immediately show the Inciting Incident as they do in Schitt’s Creek, but you do have to tell your audience who they are and what they want. You can either do that through directly having a conversation about what that character wants, or by showing what’s missing or wrong in their life.
In Lilly Prospero And The Magic Rabbit, the Inciting Incident doesn’t come until the end of Chapter One. However, as soon as you meet Lilly you understand what she cares about. She’s starting a new school, she’s never been popular, and she wants to have friends and fit in. That’s what she’s motivated by. Because you are placed in her POV, and understand what she wants and why, your attention is then on finding out whether she gets it.
You are taking your audience on a journey with your Protagonist, competing against the Antagonist, to try and get what they want. That’s your story, that’s why your audience will follow them. So communicate it quickly. This is who you care about, this is what they care about, and this is why you care about them getting it.
Holding Their Attention
Once you’ve got your audiences attention, and they’re invested in finding out what happens in your story, you need to hold it. To hold their attention make sure your conflict is always active.
Active conflict means at every moment of your story, your Protagonist is trying to achieve their goal, and your Antagonist is trying to stop them. At no point should they be resting and have what they want, that means the story is stalled and nothing is going on.
Tell your audience why they care, and keep them caring. As long as your characters cares enough to pursue their goal, your audience will care enough to go on the journey with them.
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