John C. Maxwell is a popular speaker, pastor and New York Times Bestselling author of 60 books focused primarily on leadership. Recently, a friend of mine pointed out that Maxwell had something to say to writers in his book, Everyone Communicates, Few Connect (What the Most Effective People do Differently).
I perused the excerpt he gave me and found more than one gem from Maxwell, who is perhaps most well-known for, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, which sold over one million copies.
In the excerpt, Maxwell makes the point that as a speaker and a writer he has to “take responsibility” for his listener’s and his reader’s interest in his subject. As a speaker, he uses charisma, body language, facial expressions and tone of voice to engage his audience. A writer has the same responsibility but not the same tools.
Maxwell tells the story of American author and historian Barbara Tuchman, who had a sign over her typewriter that asked a question all writers must routinely ask themselves relative to our responsibility of managing our reader’s interest. The sign simply said, “Will the reader turn the page?”
“She didn’t take for granted her reader’s response,” Maxwell explained, “she took responsibility for it.”
As writers, we need to take responsibility for our reader’s interest and engagement in our work. We need to give them a reason, a good one, to turn the page, every single page. Will it be a captivating scene, a compelling concept or a powerful opening line? Every page is a bridge to the one that follows it. You are asking your reader to cross the bridge. If she crosses it, the journey continues and your book is read. If she hesitates at the bridge and fails to cross it, she puts the book down. Will she ever pick it up again? Maybe, maybe not. But at this stage, you, the writer, will have little influence over her actions. You had her when she was on the previous page. Never let her go. How?
This is the secret all writers are looking for. The answer is easy and complex. Capture them with conflict on every page. Introduce inciting incidents, craft compelling characters, intriguing plots, winding subplots, heart-wrenching themes, dynamic dialogue, write captivating sentences, all of the above. How you figure this out is up to you individually. But the bottom line is the same for all of us. Did we get the reader to turn the page? Did they voluntarily cross the bridge to the next page and keep reading? It’s the ultimate challenge for every writer.
Maxwell is right. We all have to take responsibility for the reader’s interest. We have to give them a reason to turn the page. Our reader’s crave it—and our work demands it.
The Writer’s Refuge blog is a place for writers, like you, to break away from your daily routine and for just a few minutes find insight, inspiration or simply a word of encouragement.
Blog entries are posted on Thursday.
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