Making Your Readers Care

How do you make people care about what you write? I know it’s hard to swallow but face it, nobody cares about what you have to say. I’m not being mean or callous when I say that, it’s true of every writer. Nobody cares or has time for what you have to say so you have to MAKE them care.

How do you do that? Is there a magic formula that you can use to make your readers care about what you write? I’ll tell you in a minute. First let me say something heretical: I don’t think JK Rowling is a very good writer. I know, it’s a shocking thing to say, I mean she’s enormously famous, and one of the richest people ever to write down a word in the English language. So she must be an excellent writer, her every phrase and sentiment laced with nuance and meaning, her words tripping into your mind like stealthy little pixies and lodging there forever.


If you have ever tried to read one of her stories to a child you’ll know she isn’t a very good writer at all. Her stories are repetitive, (count the times she says Harry, Ron and Hermione and you’ll go crazy) lacking in real meaning and basically low grade fantasy pulp. I know, I know, you probably love the Harry Potter stories and now you hate me for my heresy and obvious lack of taste. But hold on. I didn’t say they weren’t successful, well loved or worthwhile. They are all those things. But the point I’m making is that she doesn’t have to write great prose or good characters to be all those other good things to a HUGE amount of people. She just has to make you care about the characters and after that you’ll follow her through the woods, into the air, under the ground, through a maze of Harry, Ron and Hermiones and indeed ANYWHERE she wants to take you. You care.


Okay the magic formula. In order to make your readers care about your characters and about your story you… engage their attention with surprising events, then let them know there are a lot of things they don’t know, mysteries to which the solution is bound to be interesting. Often JK doesn’t bother making the solutions to the mysteries satisfying, another flaw in my enjoyment, but she does tie everything up.

Actually there is no magic formula to do this. I kind of lied about that, but I did lead you to expect a solution at the beginning, which led you to read to the end, and that is a demonstration of the power of this technique. But you do have to work very hard to make people care and you do this by making sure you have a simple compelling message, find a way to surprise your audience, add mystery so they know there is a gap in their knowledge and then keep doing that all the way along to the end, not forgetting of course if you promise a solution to provide it at the end or people get very irate.

Making people care is a crucial skill if you want to be a good writer, and there are a great many ways to do it. But at the same time you must always strive to provide meaning as well as entertainment, because any old writer can blow stuff up and have characters chasing each other across the world for no reason, but few, very very few writers can make us think, make us cry and make us grow.


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