Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Christmas in July with Karen Cioffi

Storytelling – Keep Your Reader Engaged
By Karen Cioffi

As an author it’s your job to create an engaging, compelling, suspenseful, intriguing, romantic, or other type of story content that will lure readers in and keep them turning the pages. But the key word for a successful story is ‘engaging.’

Engagement, according to, means to have an emotional involvement or commitment. Based on this, no matter what genre you write in the story must hold or engage the reader.

In an article in the Writer’s Digest January 2011 issue, Steven James takes a look at aspects of great storytelling.

The first rule to a successful story, according to James, is “cause and effect.” In children’s writing this is the same as an obstacle and its solution - there must be a circumstance that leads the protagonist to an action in an effort to find a solution. I do like the “cause and effect” wording James uses though, because it’s more in line with multiple writing genres.

In its simplest form, something happens (the cause) that creates or motivates an action or reaction (the effect).

James goes on to explain that along with cause and effect, the order in which an event unfolds or how it’s written will also make a difference between keeping a reader engaged and allowing for disengagement.

“As a fiction writer, you want your reader to always be emotionally present in the story,” explains James. If the sequence of an event causes the reader to stop and wonder why something is happening, even if just for a moment, disengagement grabs the reader.

As an example, suppose you write:

She fell to her knees, dropped her head, and wept uncontrollably. Her husband was dead.

While after just eleven words, the reader learns why the woman is crying, it may be enough time for that reader to pause and wonder why the character ‘fell to her knees, dropped her head, and wept uncontrollably.’ Creating the ‘effect’ before the ‘cause’ can lead to disengagement.

To create a cause and effect scenario that keeps the reader in the loop, you might write:

Her husband was dead; the words echoed through the room. She fell to her knees, dropped her head, and wept uncontrollably.

The second aspect of writing James touches upon is creating and maintaining a believable story. Even if writing a fantasy or science fiction, consistency is needed, along with believable actions, reactions, observations, conclusions, and so on, within the boundaries of the story.

A basic example of this might be if you write about a character with brown eyes, then somewhere within the story you accidently mention the eyes are green. This little slip creates a believability gap.

Any gap in the believability of the story or its characters has the potential to cause the reader to pause, question, and very possibly become disengaged.

Karen Cioffi is an author and ghostwriter. Her new MG/YA fantasy book, Walking Through Walls, is based on an ancient Chinese tale.

Longing to be rich and powerful, twelve-year-old Wang studies the legend of the mystical Eternals. Certain they are real, he journeys to their temple and begins an apprenticeship with the Eternal Master. There he enters a world of magic where not everything is as it seems, and where he learns the magic formula to ‘walking through walls.’

Walking Through Walls should now be available through online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and book stores. If it’s not yet listed, it will be very soon!

You can also order the book today at:

To learn more about Walking Through Walls, its touring schedule and contest, and purchasing information visit:

To learn more about Karen and her books, visit:

Please be sure to stop by Farrah Kennedy’s site ( on July 28th for the next stop on the Walking Through Walls Tour.

Today's daily giveaway is a $2.00 Amazon gift certificate.

It is available for U.S., Canada, and international


Stina Lindenblatt said...

This is a tricky one. I've heard agents say not to do this.

I write first person present tense, so it wouldn't work for me. My characters can't react to something they don't know about yet. You can get away with it in past tense since the character already know the outcome when the story is told. Despite what agents have said, though, I think in the correct tense, it can work well for adding suspense.

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

Another informative article, Karen. Best wishes with your book.

Susanne Drazic said...

Hi Stina! Hi Beverly! Thanks for stopping by to check out Karen's guest post. Have a great day!

Stephen Tremp said...

Reminds me a bit of a character from the TV series Heroes where one of the characters could walk through walls. There is also some scientific basis to walking through walls as we are made up of far more space than solids material. Who knows, maybe one day we'll work out a way to walk through walls.

Janet Johnson said...

Great post! And great advice about cause and effect.

Talli Roland said...

Great post, Karen. Thank you!

Happy Wednesday, Susanne.

Karen Cioffi said...

Susanne, Thanks so much for featuring me today, and being a part of my book tour.

Karen Cioffi said...

Stina, thanks for the input. In first person it would be problematic. And, that's the interesting thing about the writing business, half a dozen agents and publishers will feel one way and the other half another. :)

Thanks so much for stopping by!

Karen Cioffi said...

Beverly, Thanks so much, I'm glad you found it interesting.

Stephen, Boy, wouldn't that be a useful ability, but I just wonder how that would affect privacy issues, not to mention how would you protect yourself and your home from criminals! :) Can you tell I live in NYC? Thanks for stopping by!

Shannon Mawhiney said...

I'm very much with you about the believability gap, especially when something in the story is inconsistent. It can totally ruin a story for me, and I try really hard not to do it in my own writing!

Thanks for the post. :)

storyqueen said...

Interesting article. I am probably not as aware of this while I am writing as I should be.


Cindy said...

Finally made it to the site! Good article. Brings up a lot of valid points. I find sometimes reading you words aloud helps you hear where a change is needed. It enables you to hear the weak spots and sometimes, just by switching the order of the words, makes for a more engaging story that flows better.

Mayra Calvani said...

Helpful article, especially the part about cause and effect. Thanks for the reminder! I agree it's a very important aspect of fiction and I often struggle with it, spending some time rearranging the order of sentences in my story.

Mayra Calvani

Lynda R Young said...

Cause and effect is so important in storytelling. Great post.

Joylene Butler said...

Very well put. I see so many new writers make the mistake of switching cause and effect around. It takes the oomph out of the scene.

Cheryl said...

Excellent post, Karen. I'm enjoying following you around the blogosphere.

Best of luck.



Karen Cioffi said...

Janet, I'm so glad you found the post interesting, and Thanks for stopping by!

Talli, I'm so happy you also found the post interesting. Thank you also for taking the time to drop by!

Karen Cioffi said...

Shannon, this happens to me while watching TV also. when scenes are just too unbelievable for the storyline it definitely disengages the viewer or reader. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Shelley, thank goodness for magazine like the Writer and Writers Digest to let us know what we're missing. :) Thanks so much for stopping by!

Karen Cioffi said...

Cindy, great point; reading it aloud does make a difference. I've also read to write the scene a couple of different ways to give yourself alternatives and a feel for what works better. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Mayra, Ah, a writer's life, always trying to find the better word, sentence, paragraph. I'm so glad you found the article helpful. And, thanks for stopping by!

Karen Cioffi said...

Lynda, It is and I really like the way James puts it. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Joylene, The article by James helped me to see where my own writing used effect then cause. Gee, there's just so much to keep track of when writing. :) Thanks so much for stopping by!

Cheryl, Thanks so much for following along. I learned one lesson from this - shorter is better! I'll be writing about that too. :)

Karen Cioffi said...

Thank you again, Susanne for having me here!

And, thank you all for taking the time to stop by and post a comment. I know with a long tour like this it's easy to lose interest! I appreciate your support!

LTM said...

this is the second time I've read about cause and effect this week, and you're right. It's the heart of all storytelling. Good stuff here. Thanks for the great examples~ :o)

Karen Cioffi said...

LTM, I'm so glad you found the article helpful. And, thanks for stopping by and commenting!


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