Are you ready to embark on a literary journey this summer and create a book that will leave your audience hungry for more?
There are some key ingredients for crafting a story that resonates with readers, keeps them hooked from beginning to end, and provides both entertainment and depth.
So grab your pen, and let's start creating an irresistible summer read!
1. UNDERSTAND YOUR AUDIENCE
To create a book that truly captivates your readers, it's essential to understand who they are. Take some time to research and analyze your target audience's interests, demographics, desires, and expectations.
Oftentimes your target audience may be a younger version of you, depending on your genre and your message. The most important thing to remember is the pain you were experiencing and the solution you are providing to the reader.
For fiction, it may be escaping daily life, stress, and anxiety for the type of entertainment that takes you away to another place. Look at other authors in your field and see where they are hanging out with stark-raving fans. Book conferences where you can ask questions? Bookstores? Groups on campuses?
For nonfiction, think about where your audience members are seeking answers to their pressing problems right now. Where could you meet to observe and ask questions so you can meet their needs? Is it in Facebook groups? Other online forums? Local gatherings? Support groups? Masterminds? Where does your audience hang out…online or in person?
By observing, meeting, and listening, you'll be able to tailor your story to meet their needs on both an emotional and intellectual level. That’s when the book becomes a “must-read” for them.
2. ENGAGING CHARACTERS
People don’t read stories about strangers.
Engaging characters are the heart and soul of any great book, so focus on developing relatable protagonists. Make them fully three-dimensional. I love characters that I can see, hear, feel and follow in my mind’s eye because they’re that deliciously real. I love to be able to visualize them alone with their thoughts, understand their predilections, see them come further to life when engaged in dramatic dialog that moves the plot forward, and action sequences that show me their outer prowess and inner conflicts and resolutions. Protagonists are the most real when they are trying to solve a gripping problem. It’s when their fatal flaws show up. Flaws and foils are places of great tension and deep, self-discovery.
The best question to ask yourself:
How can I make my hero/shero real to my reader?
Also, don’t neglect your antagonists! Those villains need compelling backstories, clear motivations, and realistic flaws too. [In fact, the more you develop your arch-nemesis, the more you might start to fall in love with that character you’ve created, too. The best demons, villains, and antagonists have redeeming qualities that suck you in for a hot second…and then fling you to the side like last year’s headlines. (In nonfiction, who just came to mind when you read that? Probably an antagonist in your story - or one of your stories!)
Remember that antagonists can also be circumstances like divorce, disease, acts of Mother Nature like a typhoon and more. Whenever there is a big problem to be solved, there is always something seeking to thwart the character – or it wouldn’t be a problem! Bring that antagonist to life as much as your main character. And keep in mind, sometimes you feel that, too.
As readers become invested in the lives of your characters, they'll be eager to devour your book and follow their journeys.
3. BUILD A GRIPPING PLOT
A gripping and fast-paced plot is the key to keeping readers hooked from the beginning to the very end. Create a storyline filled with tension, unexpected twists, and high stakes. Incorporate elements of surprise, mystery, suspense, and adventure.
Maintaining a sense of excitement and anticipation throughout your book will encourage readers to eagerly feast upon each chapter. And ensure your story has a clear narrative structure with well-crafted conflicts and resolutions, which will drive your readers forward.
I recently revisited an old Nora Roberts book, Shelter in Place. There is a reason this woman has remained so popular for so many decades! She’s a genius at her plot twists and super high stakes (usually life or love or both. Usually both). Her first chapters involve a movie theater at a mall invaded and terrorized by active shooters—three with high-powered weapons taking people out. Through bravery and calling 9-1-1, some young, local heroes evolve, because they saved lives. Twelve years later, those heroes, however, become the target of assassination from the ringleader, who had been unknown and not caught in the beginning. Two heroes, forged by the past and go on to become an artist and a police chief, fall in love, and end up being the ones who can bring the assailant down for good.
Whether fiction or nonfiction, people love a fast-moving, gripping plot to stories. Keep the pace. Add mystery. Draw the reader in one direction by your words and suddenly TWIST! Give them something unexpected. Make sure you’ve planted the seed earlier so it’s not out of the blue, but still takes the reader by surprise. For example, in Shelter in Place, you’re expecting more assassinations before she comes after the two main characters, because the plot, the conversation and the tracking of the assailant leads you to believe she’s got a list she will follow in her executions. Then wallah! Out of the blue, they’re immediate targets, and if she’s done her job well, the writer had thrown you off the scent and now your heart is racing!
4. EVOCATIVE SETTING AND ATMOSPHERE
Transport your readers to a vivid and immersive world by painting a picture with rich and sensory details. Imagine a sun-soaked beach, a quaint countryside, or a bustling city.
Creating an immersive setting allows your audience to fully experience the world you've crafted and provide them with an unforgettable reading experience. Your atmosphere should anchor readers in time and space while evoking a sense of escapism, transporting them from their everyday lives to the place you've envisioned.
Using Shelter in Place again, Nora utilized the area around Portland as her main setup, but it’s actually an island off the coast you fall in love with - the shelter from the storm - that makes you care about characters and also preserving lives in the small town on the island from a wicked psychopath.
5.BALANCE ENTERTAINMENT AND DEPTH
While summer reads often lean toward lighter and more entertaining stories, it's important to strike a balance between entertainment and depth. Weaving thought-provoking themes and emotional depth into your story gives your audience something to reflect on in their own lives on a deeper level.
Nora has some new books she released in 2023 that have been popular for her trademark storytelling. Even though some folks find her work formulaic, it’s like the movies raking in millions of dollars at the box offices–the formulas are what readers love and stay loyal to. She has patterns you can study in her new Identity and The Collector that I enjoyed for light summer reading. Watch how she weaves 3D characters, charming scenery and plot twists. Very enjoyable read with a great study of emotional beats and reader delight.
By providing an enjoyable escape and a meaningful experience, your book will become a must-read that satisfies readers' cravings for entertainment and substance.
Congratulations! You now have the recipe for creating a book your audience will devour this summer!
By understanding your readers, crafting engaging characters, building a gripping plot, creating an evocative setting, and balancing entertainment and depth, you'll be well on your way to crafting an irresistible summer read for next year!
So go ahead, let your imagination soar, and create a story that leaves readers eagerly turning the pages.