Orientation Helps Readers Plunge Into Your Story World

Can readers trust you with their time?

Maybe you have a stunning idea for a cover. Maybe you’re blessed with copywriting skills and can sell your book with a powerful back cover summary.  But your key thing is the written words within the book itself.

Where are you?

And it all starts on the first few pages. It starts with orienting readers on what to expect:

Steven James, writer extraordinaire, and perhaps the best writing coach around, says readers need to know:

  1. Who they’re supposed to cheer for or against
  2. What threats are present
  3. Why the story’s outcome matters
  4. If they can trust you with their time.

He calls this orientation.

Orientation begins the journey into the story world

Unless you include a prologue, readers will assume that the protagonist is the first person introduced in the story. Your readers will immediately become attached to that character (whether loving or hating). So that character must be an essential part of your story, preferably the major character. He discusses opening with dialogue, which can work because it’s one way to present a character, and get into story action. But how soon will readers be able to visualize the scene? In a book, readers often want to place themselves “there,” mentally. If a book starts with description, do we know from whose point of view is the scene described, for that presents a character and creates a mood which can lead to action.

Is it too predictable?

He asks if your first orienting scene has a twist, a surprise—something that makes the scene fresh, not predictable or cliche. And he asks, does this scene establish where the book is going, considering its path and ending, and the overall mood/tone of the book? Does it fit? Take you to the next step? Have a logical expectation met in the climax and resolution? After writing the book, review your opening. Have you oriented your readers for a good “ride” through your story world?

*From Steven James Troubleshooting Your Novel: Essential Techniques for identifying  and Solving Manuscript Problems. Highest rating. Highly recommended. 

Click tags to find out more about the topics on this site. Also, dig deeper by reviewing the books recommended to see if they might help you. For more personal blogs, please see Scott’s “Writer Life” blog.

Spread the word. Share this post!

Scott Douglas Martell is a writer, teacher and coach. His most recent novel is The Hyena Man, an African romantic suspense. His blogs often focus on Ethiopia and Vietnam, world traveling, and counseling for a more joyful life, with topics such as brain health and spiritual awareness.

Leave a Reply