Wednesday, October 12, 2011

On Being Mentored: Re-engaging Readers

Have you heard a speaker, read a book, watched a TV show or movie, or heard a song that stayed in your mind for days, even months later?  

A year later something sparked the memory and kindled a replay of your favorite portions? 

My response usually is: hum the tune, laugh out loud, or quote story lines--all of which solicit strange looks from those around me who haven't a clue why I physically responded. Hence the question from them, "What are you doing?"

I could melt back into my cubical, embarrassed, OR 

At this point--this golden moment--I could tell them what  bounced through my memory.

Unknowingly, I have become a sales person for the book, movie, 

I don't mind.  

Actually, I'm quite happy when a person asks, "What book are you talking about?" because I can influence them to read something I enjoyed.

An important step to quality writing is:  hook the reader.  True.  So true. BUT a hook is simply not good enough to keep a reader.

A hook invites the reader to, say, step aboard the boat.

The first page, back cover and front cover convinces the reader to stay in the boat for at least a moment or two.

Chapter one escorts them to the best seats.

The next chapters convince the reader not to jump overboard, instead focus on the spectacular view as the boat is cast off.

Remaining chapters entertain the reader on the journey. Inviting readers to sit next to a character through storm and gale, car accident, lost love, raid, Christmas dinner, etc

The last page safely escorts the reader back to the shore.

NOW what? Close the book? Let it collect dust? No! 

This is a crucial moment. Has the story begun to replay in the reader's mind?

A year from now will the hook pop in the reader's mind? (probably not)

--but a story line such as, "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." (from Princess Bride) is sure to spark the memory of the movie and call for more scenes to replay. Perhaps the person might say the line out loud or unintentionally flash their invisible sword. Caught by a curious co-worker or friend questions are asked until they too become engaged in a replay of the story.

What causes whole stories to replay in our minds?

Karen Ball taught a class at the ACFW conference this year. Her humor definitely was the hook. But great jokes alone wouldn't cause her students to replay the messages she wanted to deliver. 

Karen gave a short opener (saturated with great humor), asked exciting questions that forced the audience to come on board to hear her topic, moved about the room as she spoke (actively relating to her audience), called up a panel of experts to validate and share their journeys, (each with a humorous flare), asked more leading questions to keep the audience involved, and then wrapped up with an exciting conclusion, of course, soaked in jokes. No one wanted to leave. 

Then it happened--the crucial moment! 

After her class the words instantly replayed in my mind. I told my roommates about the class. I told new people I met in the halls about the class. The words replayed again the next day--and now two weeks later have replayed in my mind again and so I'm telling YOU. 

I have become a salesperson. Most likely one year from now I will recall the message from the Seat of the Pants class when information about the ACFW conference pops in my mailbox. I'll hope to take another class with Karen and bring a bigger pad of paper for notes.

My job is not simply to hook readers, or tell a great story, BUT to entice the reader to sit in the boat next to the characters, to become their shadow as they move about the boat and to experience their journey. 

the reader will re-engage themselves
 when something from their environment sparks a memory, 
and will replay the story in their mind, 
to experience the journey again.

And now while editing this post one last time, I remembered this same method was/is used by Jesus. He hooks his listeners, invites us to come on board to hear His Story, to sit next to Peter, Paul, etc, become their shadow as they move about the boat, experience their journey, and then tell others as we remember and relive.

What books have you relived in your thoughts?
What books caused you to spill enthusiasm to others?
How can you help your reader walk in the shadow of your characters? 


Wendy Paine Miller said...

There is a book called Someone Knows My Name I relive. I connect with so many characters from the books I read.

I love how you brought up that Jesus did this and we are to do it with our stories. What a powerful thought today!
~ Wendy

Casey said...

Wow, Mary. Really, really good post! I'm serious, you've given wings and words to so many emotions that go through me when I think about a book or event I love and want to share, but I LOVE what you said here:

BUT a hook is simply not good enough to keep a reader.

A hook invites the reader to, say, step aboard the boat.

The first page, back cover and front cover convinces the reader to stay in the boat for at least a moment or two.

AMEN! Love that! I've got to remember that! We get SO focused on hook we can forget the rest of the story is just as important. ♥ it!!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thanks, Wendy.
I'll try to find a copy of Someone Knows My Name to enjoy, too. Love to have great books recommended.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thanks Case.
Must admit, inspiration to use boat analogy came from my WIP that I am totally soaked in every spare thoughtful moment.

Keli Gwyn said...

Mary, it sounds like Karen's class was awesome. I'm not surprised. I attended a local conference here in Northern California in August where we got to enjoy two days with Karen as the main speaker. Talk about an entertaining presentation. Wow! She's Dynamic with a capital D. And she sings beautifully, too.

Jan Drexler said...

What a great post, Mary, and a great reminder that the "hook" isn't the whole story! Yes, I want my readers to read the whole book, tell others, and come back for my next one!

One of my family's favorite things to do is sit around and trade movie quotes - The Princess Bride is a favorite, along with Clue and Muppet Treasure Island. The quotes also come up at the most seemingly inappropriate times, casting all of us into fits of giggles. Very impolite for any innocent bystanders!

Mary Vee Writer said...

I would have loved to engage in 2 full days of Karen presentations. You must have been exhausted and still remembering so much!! (jealous). And yes, her voice is angelic. Rememer what she did when she wanted to find for individual during a meal at the conference? She boldly went to the platform, stepped to the mic and sang the first line of Amazing Grace. The entire room drew silent. Then she said, Is ___ in the room? I'm laughing even now.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Your family and mine are very sympatico! Abstract movie lines can be quoted at any time at any place...usually the only ones who catch the pun is our own family. It's a game...stump the listener. Rarely do we stump each other. Of course, Princess Bride is chief. Anybody want a peanut?

Jan Drexler said...

Mary, the comedian Brian Regan is another one for great one-liners!

Hey, I just became a salesperson!

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Mary, I didn't make it to ACFW this year, but I love gleaning the nuggets from those of you who did. I, too, loved the analogy of the boat being the vehicle to bring readers through our stories. Thanks for the reminder that the hook is just the first step to engaging the reader. The rest of the book needs to follow up behind it. :)
Great post!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thanks, Jeanne. Always nice to have you join us. Maybe someday we'll see you at the conference:)