When asked “What does it take to force a reader to read?” …

I don’t like that word “forced”. To force them is to kidnap them, kicking and screaming, dragging them someplace they don’t want to go.

Instead, I prefer to trick the reader. Lure them in with a pretty cover, a sexy title; then hook them with the very first sentence, a sentence that would keep them up at night staring at the ceiling, if they didn’t continue reading. Now you’ve got them–and under their own power.

The challenge is: you have to deliver on the promise of that first sentence. Not only does the story itself have to pull them into your world, you have to keep throwing more “hook” sentences out there at sneakiest moments. Like at the ends of chapters, or in quiet moments when they think everything is okay again.

But it’s never okay! Bwahahahaha!

You have to put the reader in the hot seat, make them realize: These characters they’ve fallen in love with will not survive without the real hero–the reader–getting them safely to the end of the story.

My short answer to a recent writing site prompt asking, “What is the purpose of backstory.”

For me, there’s two flavors of backstory…

If the backstory is part of the story, then it is where the hero’s Problem lurks, the one they trip over in the inciting incident and must battle throughout the story, until they finally see it and stomp on it in the end. Although stories seem to be about a battle with the Antagonist, in the end it is usually winning the battle with some part of themselves that allows them to win against the bad guy.

If the backstory is not shown to the reader, then it’s often used as a bible of sorts for the writer to follow to inform who their character is as a three-dimensional, fallible–and often broken–person. It helps them know what their character will do and feel in any situation the writer throws them into.

It pays to get to know your characters from beginning to end. The more “alive” they are, the more they will bring your stories to life, too.

(A response to the prompt “What’s your favorite way to start writing?” when you don’t know what the story is yet.)

Although it doesn’t often work out this way, the most enjoyable part of my writing process happens when I’m scribbling longhand in a notebook somewhere pretty outdoors, about whatever I find interesting or silly or disconcerting at that moment, until … an idea forms. Excited by the possibilities, I continue scribbling until a story begins to evolve. Eventually, witnesses will report a crazy person running home to the computer to see where the ideas take her.

For me, paper is slow and good for thinking;
The keyboard is fast and good for writing.

You might want to try this yourself if your ideas have difficulties gestating. Perhaps it will work for you, too. Tell the police I put you up to it.