CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS
This third guide to writing compelling fiction by respected editor and award-winning author Jodie Renner, Captivate Your Readers, which has won a Silver Medal in the 2015 FAPA Book Awards, provides concrete advice for captivating readers and immersing them in your story world. It’s all about engaging readers through the use of techniques such as deep point of view, showing instead of telling, avoiding author intrusions, writing riveting dialogue, and basically stepping back and letting the characters tell the story.
Today’s readers want to lose themselves in an absorbing story. Renner shows you how to provide the immediacy and emotional involvement readers crave in fiction, the direct, close connection to the characters and their world. And she does it in her usual highly accessible, reader-friendly style, with plenty of subheadings, concrete tips and examples.
This book is available through all Amazon websites in both e-book form ($2.99 – $3.49) and trade paperback ($11.99 – $14.99) and also in print through Red Tuque Books in Penticton, BC, Canada. Available soon in print at many independent bookstores and libraries across North America.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
PART I – CREATE CHARACTERS READERS WILL WANT TO FOLLOW
Chapter 1 – Create a Complex, Charismatic Main Character
Chapter 2 – Create a Fascinating, Believable Antagonist
Chapter 3 – Don’t Stop the Story to Introduce Each Character
Chapter 4 – Character Descriptions – Detailed or Sketchy?
Chapter 5 – Character Descriptions – Learn From the Pros
PART II – HOOK READERS WITH A RIVETING OPENING
Chapter 6 – To Prologue or Not to Prologue?
Chapter 7 – Open Your Novel in Your Protagonist’s Head
Chapter 8 – Your First Pages Are Critical
PART III – USE DEEP POINT OF VIEW TO ENGAGE READERS
Chapter 9 – Introduction to Point of View in Fiction
Chapter 10 – The Pros & Cons of First-Person Point of View
Chapter 11 – Draw Readers in with Deep Point of View
Chapter 12 – How to Avoid Head-Hopping
Chapter 13 – Tips for Using Point of View Effectively
Chapter 14 – Psychic Distance
Chapter 15 – Using Thought-Reactions to Add Attitude & Immediacy
PART IV – SHOW VS. TELL – KNOW WHEN TO SHOW ’EM, KNOW WHEN TO TELL ’EM
Chapter 16 – Show Important Scenes, Tell Transitional Ones
Chapter 17 – Critical Scenes Need Nail-Biting Details
Chapter 18 – How to Keep Your Dialogue Real and Riveting
PART V – IMMERSE THE READERS IN YOUR STORY WORLD
Chapter 19 – Make Sure Your Characters Act in Character
Chapter 20 – How to Avoid Annoying Author Intrusions
Chapter 21 – A Strong Fictive Voice Needs Attitude
Chapter 22 – Show the Setting through Your POV Character
Chapter 23 – Sensory Details Suck Your Readers In
Chapter 24 – Show Character Reactions to Bring Them to Life
PART VI – SPARK UP YOUR STYLE AND ADD TENSION & INTRIGUE
Chapter 25 – 10 Ways to Add Depth to Your Scenes
Chapter 26 – Avoid Overwriting – Subtle is More Sophisticated
Chapter 27 – Adding Tension, Suspense, & Intrigue
PART VII – OVERVIEW, CHECKLISTS, ADDITIONAL TIPS
Chapter 28 – Checklist for Writing Fiction Readers Can’t Put Down
Chapter 29 – 33 Tips For Creating a Short Story Worthy of Contests, Magazines, and Anthologies
Chapter 30 – 15 Questions for Your Beta Readers – And to Focus Your Own Revisions
Chapter 31 – 12 Essential Steps from Story Idea to Publish-Ready Novel
Appendix 1 – Spot the POV Gaffes
Appendix 2 – Naming Your Characters
Appendix 3 – Sketching in Your Characters
CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS – Reviews & Blurbs
Review of CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS by Charity Tober for Readers’ Favorite Book Reviews and Awards, May 2015:
“Captivate Your Readers (An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction) by Jodie Renner is an informative and valuable guide for all fiction writers. The author goes beyond the notion of just writing a great story and gaining instant readers. She gets really meticulous and lets writers know all of the ‘nitty gritty’ details of writing compelling fiction, starting with the most important aspect of any book – the characters. Renner discusses what makes an interesting character, how to introduce new characters, and what information to include so readers are invested in the characters’ journey. The book goes on to discuss riveting openings, points of view, style, story flow, the importance of ‘show don’t tell,’ as well as how to write realistic and engaging dialogue. Renner concludes with three appendix exercises: Spot the POV Gaffes, What’s In a Name? Naming Your Characters, and Sketching In Your Characters to give writers a chance to apply what they’ve learned to their own writing.
“I found Captivate Your Readers (An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction) to be a very thorough and informative read. Renner covers a wide variety of topics and does so in a logical and easy-to-follow format. I like how she introduces a topic and then gets really detailed, looking at it from every angle. For instance, in part three of the book, she discusses point of view. Renner introduces the subject, explains it, gives the pros and cons of different types of point of view, how to use it effectively, and even goes into using the character’s thoughts to enhance the story. I would recommend this book to all fiction writers looking to learn more about the individual, detailed components of a compelling read.”
“A handy compendium of techniques that will also serve as a checklist for authors who aspire to write page-turning fiction.”
– James Scott Bell, author of Super Structure: The Key to Unlocking the Power of Story
“Jodie’s books are packed with practical writing and editing advice. Get ready to improve your manuscript today.”
– Steven James, author of Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules
“Want to write solid, marketable fiction? Read this book. Regardless of your experience level, CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS gives you clear and concise tools that will help you create a believable story world and spin a good yarn.”
– DP Lyle, award-winning author of the Dub Walker and Samantha Cody thriller series
“Jodie Renner nails it! Captivate Your Readers should be at the top of every new and experienced writer’s arsenal, as well as a preferred resource for every teacher of writing. Her no-nonsense, easy-to-understand approach is perfect. Bravo, Jodie Renner!”
– Lynn Sholes, bestselling author of the Cotten Stone series and The Shield
“Jodie Renner is a terrific editor and writing coach. I highly recommend all of her books.”
– L.J. Sellers, bestselling author of mysteries and thrillers
“I couldn’t put this book down! A writing and editing book that’s both educational and entertaining. Captivate Your Readers is my newest go-to writing resource.
– Mark Wayne Adams, President, FAPA
SOME OF THE MANY GLOWING AMAZON REVIEWS:
5 stars – Captivating Guide for Writing Better Fiction, By Brian Switzer on May 9, 2015
Jodie Renner’s ‘Captivate Your Readers’ isn’t an instruction manual with a dry list of dos and don’ts. Rather it’s a warm conversation with a close friend over a mug of hot chocolate on a brisk fall afternoon.
Renner’s warm, rich prose informs her ideas on writing from an editor’s point of view. She breaks the enormity of writing a novel down to its most essential pieces- point of view, character, plot, narrative, etc. In each category she breaks it down further, laying out what works, what doesn’t, and why. In each area she ties her instruction to a central theme- engaging your reader and getting her to turn the page.
The book is chock-full of examples of writing mistakes. She takes her editor’s pen to those mistakes and rewrites them in a more engaging and captivating way. Her examples aren’t bad writing. They are examples of common mistakes and how to avoid or correct them. I can see ‘Captivating’ being a book that an author goes to again and again with her own writing to find passages that are weak and an easy ways to strengthen them up.
This marks the third book by Jodie Renner in my small but growing library on writing. It’s clear that this book, like the other two, will be one that I glean something from every day.
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent writing resource and a must-have for writers – By Natalie Jane
Renner’s latest writing craft book, “Captivate Your Readers: An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction,” is an excellent resource for both beginners and seasoned writers. It is well written, informative, and easy-to-read. She illustrates her points clearly with well-chosen passages from published and unpublished works. Her enthusiasm coupled with her knowledge of the subject makes this a must-have book for any writer.
5.0 out of 5 stars Another PERMANENT Addition to the Library! – By William Simon (Houston, TX, USA)
I received a copy of this book as an ARC, and it is now a part of the Library. A permanent part. Stephen King made a comment in his brilliant ON WRITING, “Most books about writing are filled with bullsh**.” Jodie Renner follows that in cutting out the BS in a friendly, informative way. With a little bit of imagination, it would not be hard at all to read this and imagine Jodie is sharing all this information over a lunch table. Written in a friendly conversational way, Jodie cuts through it all, takes the reader by the hand, and explains in ways that actually make sense how to “Captivate Your Readers”. Her previous books – FIRE UP YOUR FICTION and WRITING A KILLER THRILLER – started me reading and taking Jodie’s advice. In CAPTIVATE, Jodie takes it all one step further. Step by step, chapter by chapter, Jodie examines and clarifies what readers want these days, how to make it happen, and – more importantly – how to add your own spin to her lessons and craft a compelling story the reader cannot put down. If you want to write, read this book. If you’re serious about writing, read this book. If you are making a living as a writer, read this book. If you have reads a hundred books “About Writing”, read this book. There is no one, and I do mean NO ONE, who would not come away with a lesson or two from it.
5.0 out of 5 stars Dog ears on your paper back copy guaranteed – by Victoria Ichizli-Bartels
I read this book as a beta reader and was immediately captivated by the style and writing of the book. Even if this book is a non-fiction book, the author delivers what she promises to teach you: she captivates with her writing. […]
The book made me stop again and again. It made me contemplate and brainstorm on my work in progress. Every time I had a light-bulb experience (and there were plenty of them) I had an urge to apply this to my work. Which I did. I am sure to come back to this book again and again in my life as a writer, which started several years ago and will never end. So, my print version will definitely get a lot of dog ears. And so will yours. Guaranteed.
5.0 out of 5 stars, by Tom Combs, author, Nerve Damage
“This book is a winner. I found the writing craft recommendations on target with lots of excellent examples. I think the format and insightful content make it a great instructional read as well as a tool to reach for whenever one’s writing is feeling ‘off’. Highly recommended.”
5.0 out of 5 stars Enhance Your Knowledge of Writing Fiction and Captivate Your Readers! By John Kurtze (Chicago, Illinois)
CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS will help any fiction writer improve their writing techniques. In this third book in her series of guides to writing compelling fiction, Renner focuses on putting life into stories by bringing the characters to life and capturing the readers’ attention and compelling them to keep reading. Writers will find this book to be user-friendly, providing advice with examples on how to engage the readers emotionally and keep them reading. Renner gives guidance on how to create a direct connection between the characters and the readers. Renner’s guide helps writers understand the importance of telling the story from the character’s point of view to connect to the readers. […] CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS is a must-have guide for writers and earns a 5 star ranking.
5.0 out of 5 stars Writing Fiction Readers Can’t Put Down – By Steve Hooley
Jodie’s added another one. This book will help you grab your readers and have them keep hanging on. From character development, to hooking the reader with your opening, to showing nail-biting detail, to immersing the reader in the story world, to sparking up your style, this book will help you keep the reader reading. Another great craft book! Add this to your arsenal!
5.0 out of 5 stars A must-read for fiction writers – By Donna O’Neil
Writing is a solitary craft, and with the help of “Captivate Your Readers,” fiction writers will feel like they have had the assistance of a whole team contributing to the story. Author Jodie Renner offers very specific examples throughout this book that really hone in on what to do and what not to do in your writing. I read this book as a beta reader and was very impressed. As an editor, I will recommend this book to all my authors, especially those who are developing their craft. As a writer, I am thrilled to be reminded of the advice Renner offers with respect to dialogue, backstory and scene setting, among other topics.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Guide – by D.F. Barrett
Finally! A writer’s guide that covers it all. This book: Captivate your Readers, is a book that I will read and re-read. It has great check lists and intriguing questions that I will go to while editing each of my upcoming stories. Jodie’s book helps streamline self-editing in ways that makes it fun and interesting rather than a chore. I particularly like Chapter 26: How to avoid Annoying Author Intrusion. Hmmm, food for thought.
5.0 out of 5 stars Want your characters to grab the readers attention? by Jijsmom
I was given a copy of the book to review with the understanding that I’d honestly post my opinions. I am so glad I got to do this. My favorite part of Jodie’s book centers around character development. I am in the process of writing my first novel, and her section on character development has me re-working my book. I’ve learned so much that will give my characters more depth and realism. Jodie shares good, practical information to help a writer produce high-quality work. This book is a worthwhile investment in your writing career.
5.0 out of 5 stars Stays focused on its core purpose – by Alex Fenton
I was privileged to be one of the beta-readers for this book, and having witnessed its development, I can confirm that Jodie is an author who genuinely practises what she preaches. Entire chapters have come and gone, to ensure the final product stays focused on delivering exactly what it promises – techniques that will ensure your writing captivates its readers, and brings them back for more. Each chapter has been written to stand on its own merits; so dive in to the pages that interest you most, and take notes as you go. This is Jodie Renner’s third book on the craft of writing; written from her experience both as a published author and professional freelance-editor, and that experience really comes through in this book.
5.0 out of 5 stars An essential book for fiction writers – By Dale Smith (Portland, OR USA)
“Captivate Your Readers” delivers a wealth of fiction writing craft. This is excellent stuff! Renner’s tips and techniques will prove very helpful for fiction writers trying to grab and hold readers’ attentions. I really appreciated her emphasis on Deep POV as a way of doing that–in my experience it was a very difficult skill to get my head wrapped around, and took a couple years of study and workshops. This book lays out how to create deep POV, and why it is so essential to do so. That alone makes it worth the price. But that’s only part of what Renner covers. She details how to create characters readers will root for, how to make your dialogue crackle, how to pull your reader into your story and keep her there, as well as advice on how to revise and edit your work. “Captivate Your Readers” is an essential book for fiction writers, it’s certainly a book I will go to again and again. Five stars.
5.0 out of 5 stars An incredibly useful guide for writers – By Robert Beatty (Asheville, NC)
This book is filled with excellent advice about what you need to do AND NOT DO in order to write compelling fiction and get published. It covers characterization, point of view, setting, tension, and all the important principles of good fiction writing. If you read this book and follow its suggestions, it will take your writing to the next level. —Robert Beatty, Author of Disney’s “Serafina and the Black Cloak”
Let the Characters Tell the Story
I attend a lot of writing conferences and read scores of craft-of-fiction books, and the topic of creating an appealing “voice” always comes up. Agents and aspiring editors are always looking for “a fresh voice,” and aspiring (and even published) authors want to know how to develop an authentic, compelling voice that readers will love.
To me, the best way is to let the characters tell the story. Stay out of the story as the author, and forget omniscient point of view.
Some examples of strong, unique voices that sweep us immediately into the character’s world and the fictive dream are Huck’s in Huckleberry Finn, Stephanie Plum’s in Janet Evanovich’s series, Holden Caulfield’s in Catcher in the Rye, Scout’s in To Kill a Mockingbird, and Katniss’s in The Hunger Games.
These novels are all written in the first person, so of course it’s a lot easier for the author to immerse us in the character’s attitudes and world-view — especially with such fascinating characters!
But we can create an equally strong, appealing voice in third-person, too, if we take a tip from first-person POV and keep not only the dialogue, but all of the narration (observations and explanations) for each scene firmly in the viewpoint of the main character for that scene, colored by their background, personality, attitudes, and mood.
Also, try to have at least 70% of the novel in the protagonist’s point of view, as it’s their story.
TO CREATE A STRONG THIRD-PERSON VOICE:
~ Start with a character readers will identify with and root for.
Your main character needs to be charismatic enough to carry the whole novel, so it’s critical to take the time to first create a protagonist who’s engaging and multi-dimensional, with lots of personality and openness, fairly strong views, and some vulnerability and inner conflict. Then be sure to show his world and the events unfolding around him through his eyes and ears, not the author’s, or that of an omniscient narrator.
~ Write the narration from the character’s point of view, too.
Stay in your character’s POV for the observations, descriptions, and explanations, too, not just the dialogue and any inner thoughts and reactions. It’s your character who’s moving through that world, reacting to what’s around him. Don’t describe the surroundings and what’s going on from a distant, neutral, authorial point of view — show the character’s world directly through her observations, colored by her personality and mood.
Here’s one of many examples I could give from my editing of fiction, with details, setting, and circumstances altered for anonymity:
Setup: This is a flashback, a ten-year-old’s frightened observations as, hidden behind a tree, she watches some bad guys in the woods.
Suzie peered around the tree again to watch. The heavyset man pulled out a knife and strode toward the older, slimmer one. The thin guy looked stunned, like he didn’t expect that. In one swift movement, the big guy plunged the dagger into the older man’s carotid artery. Bright red blood gushed out like a river.
Jodie’s comments: We’re in the point of view of a ten-year-old who is observing this and telling us what she sees. I doubt she’d know the term “carotid artery,” much less exactly where it is. Also, she probably wouldn’t say “heavyset man,” “dagger,” or “in one swift movement.” And probably not “strode,” either.
Suzie peered around the tree again to watch. The big man pulled out a knife and charged toward the older, slimmer one. The thin guy looked at him, his eyes wide. Before he could do anything, the big guy raised the knife and plunged it into his neck. Bright red blood gushed out like a river.
To me, this sounds more like a ten-year-old telling us this now.
Look through your WIP novel. Does the narration (description and exposition) read like the main character for that scene could be thinking or saying it, or is it someone else’s (the author’s) words and phrasing? Are the descriptions of the surroundings neutral? Or are they colored and enriched by the character’s feelings, goal, mood, and attitude at that moment?
~ Don’t intrude as the author to explain things to the readers.
Even explanations of points should be presented through the characters, perhaps in a dialogue with disagreement and attitude.
Be on the lookout for where you step in as the author to blandly and dispassionately explain things to the readers, as if it’s nonfiction. Besides being a less engaging read, that approach yanks us out of the character’s mindset and world — and out of the fictive dream.
TIPS FOR KEEPING NARRATION AND DESCRIPTION IN THE POV CHARACTER’S VOICE:
Here are a few little techniques for livening up information-sharing and imparting it with attitude, from the viewpoint of the POV character involved.
~ Use stream-of-consciousness journaling.
To bring out the character’s personality in the parts where he’s thinking or planning or worrying or ruminating, not just when he/she is interacting with others, do some stream-of-consciousness journaling by him/her. Have him ranting in a personal diary about the people around him, what’s going on, etc. Also show his deepest fears here. Then use this wording to show his personality more in the scenes.
~ Write the scene in first-person first, then switch it back.
Write a whole scene, or even a chapter or two, in first-person narration/POV to get the rhythm and flow of that person’s language patterns and attitudes, then switch it to third-person.
~ Write with attitude!
To bring the scene and characters to life, deliver those details through the POV of the main character for that scene, in their voice and wording, with lots of attitude!