When a reader picks up your story, or opens the cover of your masterpiece breakout novel, they truly want to like it. They want to root for the characters, feel the setting, and be transported and entertained. There is a sort of honeymoon period that you enter into with your readers. It generally lasts for the first few paragraphs in a short story, and the first few pages in a novel. Within that short honeymoon phase, you need to answer the three questions all readers ask unconsciously as they advance through the story.
1. Yeah? So what?
Why should the reader care what’s happening in the story? Why should I invest my time in your story and not go turn on the television? I’ve seen this thing happen in books thousands of times, so what makes this any different?
That isn’t the way things happen in the real world. I don’t know anyone who would do something like that. How dumb does this guy think we all are? This writer doesn’t have a clue…I’m done with this story.
What’s happening here? I have no idea who’s talking to who, no idea what just happened. When did that happen? Either this guy can’t write, or I can’t read. It doesn’t matter, this isn’t worth my time.
Your job, as the teller of the tale, is to answer the questions your readers have. When they say so what, you have to give them a reason to care about the characters. When they ask really, what they need to know is that the plot is feasible and makes sense, and persuades the readers to suspend their belief system enough to allow your story to unfold. And when they ask what, it’s your job to provide a clarity that allows them to follow the dialogue and action to the next event in a way that propels the reader through the story. The ability to answer these questions will allow you to make a great first impression on your audience, and hold their attention as they trust you to deliver the story you promised them.