Three Questions Readers Ask of Manuscripts

Orson Scott Card is the author of several bestsellers, including Ender”s Game and its sequels. One of the keys to his well-deserved success? Card understands and anticipates reader needs. Here are some general thoughts all writers can benefit from, from his book Characters & Viewpoint:

You need to answer the three challenging questions all readers unconsciously ask throughout every story they read. When each question is adequately answered, readers go on with the story. When a question isn”t answered well enough, doubts begin to rise.

Question #1: So What?
Why should I care about what”s going on in this story? Why is this important? Why shouldn”t I go downstairs and watch TV? If this is all the story”s about, I”m through with it.

Question #2: Oh yeah?
Come on, I don”t believe anybody would do that. That isn”t the way things work. That was pretty convenient, wasn”t it? How dumb does this author think I am? I”m through with this story.

Question #3: Huh?
What”s happening? This doesn”t make any sense. I don”t know who”s talking or what they”re talking about. Where is this stuff happening? Either I can”t read or this author can”t write, but either way I”m through with this book.

Sounds pretty hostile, doesn”t it? Well, as long as you do your job as a storyteller and a writer, most of your readers will find you ready for these basic questions.

Whenever they unconsciously ask “So what?” your story will give them a reason to care. Whenever a doubt comes into their mind and they”re about to say “Oh yeah?” your story will include a clue or an explanation that persuades the reader to go on trusting you. And, of course, you”ll make sure there”s never a moment of confusion or inclarity in your story. On those rare but vital occasions when suspense requires you to withhold information, you”ll make sure your readers know exactly what the question is, even if they don”t know the answer. Even the uncertainties in your story must be clear, so readers will know you meant it to be that way, so they”ll continue to trust your competence to deliver the story you promised them.

Read more about Orson Scott Card”s how-to guide Characters & Viewpoint.

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