Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Getting Your Readers' Attention: Help Them Remember (5 of 5)

We’ve looked at the first four questions from Andy Stanley’s pod cast. Today, we look his last question. In lecturing, people remember a small percentage of what we say. In writing fiction, we don’t really think about the need for people to remember. Just the fact that we are communicating through a story will improve retention significantly. We are most interested in people remembering our theme and the action they need to take. If they don’t remember those, our time is wasted. But if people remember our story, they will probably remember these as well. So, do we need to ask:

What can I do to help them remember?

Andy Stanley talks about sending trinkets home with the congregation, so that they will remember. Of course, you can also use object lessons. One time, we had a Sunday school lesson on the furniture in the tabernacle. I set up the classroom with the candles to represent he candlestick and the show bread and burned incense. I took our small group of adults in there, with nothing but the candles for light. That part of the building smelled like frankincense for weeks. But none of that kind of stuff works when you’re writing a book. In non-fiction, we have a little more we can do. We can include illustrations and checklists and other things that help the reader understand and retain information. In novels, all we have are words and maybe a few pictures that may or may not have anything to do with the story. We might be able to package a book with some trinket, if the publisher will go for it, but I don’t see it happening. So, should we just forget it?

It doesn’t hurt to ask the question. Depending on the novel, there may be something more that we can do to help our readers retain what they have read. We won’t find it if we don’t ask. Maybe there is something we can give one of our characters that will help our readers remember. In How to Become a Bible Character, I send one of my characters home with a handful of sand. You’ll have to read the book if you want to know how I did that, but the memory of receiving something vicariously can have almost the same impact as if we have the object in hand.

However we do it, we don’t want our readers walking away and not remembering what they have read. We want them to take action, but even if they don’t, we want them to remember our story long after they have stored it away in their bookshelves. So, What can I do to help them remember?


Andy Stanley’s five questions, which don’t appear to be original with him, are certainly good to consider though they are more of a stretch with fiction than with non-fiction. The important thing—the one thing—is that we should focus our attention on the needs of our readers rather than what we want to say.