Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Getting Your Readers' Attention: Here's the Thing (1 of 5)

Ever wondered how you can get you’re your readers’ attention? Though not specifically addressing that question, in his March 2009 pod cast Andy Stanley talks about five questions that can help. He was speaking to a group of pastors on the subject of how leaders would effectively communicate their vision to an audience, but it occurred to me that these five questions apply to writers as well. Their application in the non-fiction realm is obvious. Most of what he says in his pod cast applies directly, so I want to focus on the fiction realm instead, with the assumption that you will go listen to his pod cast.

What do they need to know?

Novels provide information. You might think of a historical novel and some historical tidbit that you gleaned from its pages, but that isn’t what we’re talking about. What people need to know is the events of the story. Our readers need to know the problems our protagonist faces, how he tries to solve them and the result of his actions.

But which problems and actions? Our protagonists have many irons in the fire. Which events in their lives should we cover in detail and which should fade into the background? Andy Stanley talks about boiling a speech down to the one thing. “Here’s the thing,” we might say to someone. The on thing is that one thing that we want our readers to get, if they get nothing else. This is what we would normally call the theme of a novel. When you listen to the pod cast, you will notice that he mentions several examples that could just as easily be the theme for a Christian novel as the one thing in a sermon. “Your friends will determine the direction and quality of your life.” Doesn’t that sound a little like the theme of a Young Adult novel?

When we discover our theme or the one thing, we need to remove everything that isn’t focused on arguing that theme. That may mean we have to cut some of our favorite scenes, but if they don’t support the one thing then they shouldn’t be in there. Maybe they’ll fit in another novel, but for now, we need to get it down to that one thing that our readers need to glean from the pages of our book.

Next time, I’ll talk about Why do they need to know it?

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