The reader’s response is not something a writer might necessarily focus on when he or she is writing. More likely is the focus on character, plot, action and putting it all across.
Still, that reader’s response is something we all need to keep tucked away at the back of our minds when writing. Something that seems perfectly okay to the writer might really throw a curve for the reader.
An event needs to be believable or it becomes a distraction. Your characters need to be motivated and it needs to make sense.
For example, your main character has just found out the bad guys are on the way, they’re well armed and likely to blow his apartment to bits. If you segway to the next scene where that same character has settled in to listen to classical music with his cat on his lap your reader, whether novel, short story or script, is going to be jerked alert with a “what the F*^!#” in his mind or on his lips. Why doesn’t that idiot bail and run or call the cops? That reader is going to question what’s going on in your character’s mind – and then he’s going to question what’s going on in yours…
At a moment when you have the opportunity to draw your reader more deeply into your story you cause them to bounce out and even question your storytelling ability.
It’s absolutely imperative that you keep your story believeable. Yes, I know it’s fiction, so does your reader. But, if it’s not believeable in the context set before the reader, it destroys the imaginary world that you created and boots your reader out onto the cold, hard street (so to speak).
So, when you write, keep in the back of your mind motivation – and anticipate how your reader is going to react. Is this real? Is it believeable?
Now you can have a character behave in what might be an unbelieveable way if you’ve foreshadowed that behavior. You can’t have cavalry ride to the rescue if you haven’t shown your reader the cavalry. But you, the writer, can show the reader the cavalry before they’re needed.
If it’s not working you need to rewrite. But, sometimes as in the guy above sitting down with his cat it can be as simple as another character observing “I can’t believe he did that”, drawing the reader along and letting him know there’s more going on here than first can be discerned. The ‘hero’ has done something appearing irrational. Maybe it isn’t?
But then you better have a good closer later so your reader can have an ‘ah hah’ moment having thought, yep, I thought that was kinda crazy too – but he knew what he was doing!
So you might think of your reader as sort of a friend standing over your shoulder as you write. Keep in mind he’s not inside your brain. He can’t see what’s coming so it’s up to you to make sure skills, gadgets, strange happenings are foreshadowed earlier in your story and you don’t become dependent on coincidences to carry your story through.
Hey, things happen for a reason, people behave as they do because something has pushed them to that point. Remember that, use that and your reader will come back for more.
So come on, tell me – did you ever leave a character unmotivated – then come back with an excellent twist or motivation?