What Draws You Into A Story?


I haven’t decided what my next Learning from the Masters lesson will be. So for today, I’m asking a very important question…

What draws you into a story?

I recently abandoned a popular book a few chapters in. In my brief review I wrote:

I don’t like any of the characters, the writing isn’t great, and I have no interest in what happens next.

That got me thinking about the things I need to get me invested in a story.

They are, in no particular order:

1. I need good writing* This didn’t always used to be the case–as a child, I was addicted to Sweet Valley High–but as I’ve grown as a reader–and a writer!–I’ve become much more discerning.

I’ve been called a “book snob” before. I’m perfectly fine with that title. Life is too short to read bad writing.

*An exception to this: If the writing isn’t that bad and there’s enough tension going on in the story–I may keep reading. Case in point: I flew through the Twilight books, despite their less-than-stellar prose. The reasons why have to do with the next two points.

2. I need a relatable protagonist Note: this doesn’t necessarily mean likable. I didn’t like Bella Swan–but I could absolutely relate to the experience of that first, all-consuming love. That made me keep reading. Gone Girl is another great example of this.  Even when I had my suspicions about Nick, I was on his side. I cared enough to know what was going to happen to him.

Of course, in order to love a book, I do need to fall in love with the protagonists (see: Harry Potter, Chaos Walking, everything written by Tana French). But more on that later.

3. Tension This is the biggest thing of all, and the thing that kept me flying through the Twilight books despite the number of times I rolled my eyes. I need to need to know what’s going to happen next. Whether this is through setting up a mystery that needs to be solved (à la this book), bursting-at-the-seams sexual tension (à la these books), or just caring so much about the characters that you need to know what happens to them now (this one)–that tension must be present to keep me reading.

How about you? What do you need to get invested in a story? As a reader and a writer, I’d love to hear…

Photo by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash

6 thoughts on “What Draws You Into A Story?

  1. Agree, agree and agreed.

    I can’t understand how you leave a book unfinished though. There are times I’m just kicking myself for finishing a god awful book (The Night Circus) but I plough through it — only to hate it even more at the end (The Time Traveler’s Wife). I need to learn to just let go.


    1. I just think about how many great books there are out there that I have yet to read and don’t want to waste my time finishing a bad one. Though I have made exceptions, such as Red Queen–I kept waiting for it to get better, and yes, as you said, at the end I was like, I really should have just quit a quarter of the way through. The recent one I put down though I just had no interest in what would happen next.


  2. I’m on board with character and tension. Sometimes I can be swayed if the author has something to say too. This is most prevalent in Science Fiction when they project modern life into the future somehow. Something about how what we do today leads to something unexpected.

    Liked by 1 person

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