story arc

5 Reasons Your Manuscript Won’t Engage Readers

creating a compelling story arc

Oh, the allure of a good book!

It’s what every writer aspires to craft, isn’t it? A manuscript so engaging readers can’t put it down.

You’ve poured your heart and soul into the pages, yet there’s this nagging feeling. Are your readers as engrossed as you’d hope? If you’re troubled by this question, you’re not alone. Hooking readers and keeping them glued to your story is no straightforward task.

But fear not, my writerly friend…

You’re about to discover some of the most common reasons your manuscript might fall short of captivating your audience. Each section of this article will shed light on a potential issue. Then it’ll arm you with strategies to turn things around. From creating interesting characters and building a gripping story arc, to painting vivid settings and establishing clear story goals and stakes.

We’re going to tackle it all.

We’ll also discuss the significance of tension and conflict, the lifeblood of any good story.

By the time you’re done reading, you’ll have a sharper eye for what might cause readers to disengage from your manuscript.

Let’s get started!

5 Reasons Your Manuscript Won’t Engage Readers

1) Flat and/or Unrelatable Characters

flat and unrelatable characters aren't good for your story arc

There’s a certain magic in the relationship between a reader and the characters in a story.

It’s an unspoken pact of trust.

But what happens when you break that trust? What happens when your characters are flat and unrelatable?

As a writer, your characters are the lifeblood of your story, the heart that keeps the narrative flowing. Flat characters are like a weak pulse. They cannot captivate the reader, cannot evoke emotion, and ultimately, cannot engage. They lack depth, complexity, and the spark of humanity that makes a character feel real. In short, they aren’t relatable. They’re often defined by a single trait or role and lack the dynamic and developing nature real people possess.

Unrelatable characters‌ are like foreign lands with no maps.

Readers struggle to connect with them, to understand their motivations, to sympathize with their struggles. Whether it’s because of inconsistent behavior, unclear motives, or an overall lack of authenticity, unrelatable characters push readers away instead of drawing them in.

Now, how do you turn this around? How do you infuse life into your characters and make them resonate with your readers?

First, consider their motivations.

  • What drives them?
  • What/Whom do they fear
  • What/Whom do they love
  • What do they desire?

Characters, like real people, are motivated by their needs and desires. Making these clear to the reader can help them understand and relate to the character’s actions and decisions.

Next, give them complexity.

No person is a single trait or a static entity, and neither should your characters be. Allow them to have strengths and weaknesses, virtues and vices, triumphs and failures. Let them grow over the course of the story. Let them learn, change, and grow.

Finally, make them authentic. This doesn’t mean every character has to be likeable or moral, but they should feel real. You can achieve this through consistent behavior, realistic dialogue, and character-appropriate reactions.

The creation of interesting, relatable characters isn’t a simple task, but it’s an essential one.

Remember, your characters are the heart of your story. Make sure they’re strong enough to carry it.

2) No Solid Story Arc

create a solid story arc
Fictionary Story Arc Graphic

As a writer, your story arc is the backbone of your narrative.

It’s the structure that holds everything together, the guide that directs your plot and character development. Without a solid story arc, your manuscript can feel aimless, disjointed, and confusing. And this can lead to disengagement from readers.

A weak or nonexistent story arc can leave your readers feeling lost and uninvested.

They may struggle to understand the progression of the plot or the growth of the characters. Events may seem random or inconsequential, making it hard for readers to care about what happens next. If there’s no clear path from the beginning to the end of the story, readers may feel like they’re wandering aimlessly through a narrative wilderness.

So, how can you ensure your manuscript has a strong story arc that keeps readers engaged?

This is where the Fictionary Story Arc comes into play. Fictionary is some of the best book editing software out there. 

fictionary story arc

The Fictionary Story Arc is a tool to structure your narrative, featuring key plot points that drive the story forward. These include:

  • The Inciting Incident: Which disrupts the everyday world and introduces the story conflict
  • Plot Point 1: Where the protagonist engages with the story conflict, marking a point of no return
  • The Middle Plot Point: Where the protagonist shifts from reactive to active and the stakes get higher
  • Plot Point 2: Where something tragic happens to the protagonist, bringing them down to their lowest moment
  • The Climax: Where the protagonist either succeeds or fails in their story goal, bringing the most tension and conflict

By adhering to this structure, you ensure your story has a clear beginning, middle, and end. You’ll also ensure each event in the plot serves a purpose and drives the story forward. It provides a roadmap for your character’s journey. Not just the external events they encounter, but also their internal growth and change.

Remember, though, that the Fictionary Story Arc isn’t a rigid template, but a flexible guide.

Adapt it to suit your story’s unique needs, but always keep in mind the purpose of each plot point, and ensure that they all contribute to the overall narrative progression.

A solid story arc is crucial to engaging readers.

It provides direction, purpose, and a sense of progression. A Story Arc makes readers eager to follow your characters along their journey. By using the Fictionary Story Arc as a guide, you can craft an engrossing narrative that keeps readers turning the pages.

3) Two-Dimensional Settings

5 reasons why your manuscript won't engage readers

You’ve likely spent countless hours crafting your characters, plotting your story arc, and refining your dialogue. Yet, there’s another essential story element of your manuscript that requires just as much attention and care…

Your settings!

Two-dimensional settings—ones lacking depth and detail—can be a major reason why readers disengage.

Think about your favorite books.

The settings aren’t just backdrops against which the action takes place. Oh, no. They’re living, breathing entities that add richness andstory arc texture to the narrative. From the dusty plains of a western novel to the bustling streets of a city-based thriller, the setting can fulfil the following functions:

  • Imbue a story with atmosphere
  • Influence character behavior
  • Drive the plot

Vague, unconvincing, or bland settings are hard for readers to immerse themselves in.

Two-dimensional settings can make your story feel flat and your characters disconnected from their environment.

If readers can’t visualize the world you’re writing about, they may have trouble understanding your characters’ motivations. A lack of setting can make it difficult for readers to follow the action or believe in the events you’re describing.

So, how can you transform your settings from two-dimensional sketches into vibrant landscapes that captivate your readers?

Here are a few strategies.

Engage All Five Senses

Don’t just describe what your characters see. Delve into what they hear, smell, touch, and taste. This sensory detail can make your settings feel palpably real and deeply immersive.

Make Your Settings Work For Your Story

Your settings should impact your plot and characters in the following ways:

  • Creating obstacles
  • Influencing decisions
  • Revealing character traits

For instance, a character living in a harsh, barren landscape might be tougher and more resilient because of their environment.

Weave Your Setting Descriptions Into Your Narrative

Avoid large chunks of exposition that can slow your story’s pace and bore your readers.

Instead, integrate setting details naturally through action, dialogue, or a character’s observations.

Less Is More

While detail is important, avoid overloading your readers with information. Aim for evocative, specific details that create a vivid impression without overwhelming the narrative.

Crafting dynamic, three-dimensional settings takes time and effort. But the result is a richer, more engaging narrative that pulls your readers into your story world and keeps them there. Your settings are much more than just a backdrop. They’re a vital component of your story that can help you create a truly immersive reading experience.

4) No Clear Story Goal or Story Stakes

establish a clear story goal or story stakes

Crafting an interesting story involves an intricate dance between various elements:

  • Characters
  • Plot
  • Setting
  • And more…

Among these, writers often overlook two crucial aspects, leading to a manuscript that cannot engage readers. A clear story goal and defined story stakes. In their absence, a story can feel aimless. And without them, stories lack tension and urgency.

A story goal is what your protagonist is trying to achieve.

It’s the driving force behind their actions and decisions throughout the narrative. If your story goal is unclear, readers may struggle to understand what your protagonist is working towards. This leads to confusion and a lack of engagement.

If the point of view character cannot achieve their goal, there must be stakes (or consequences) connected to that failure.

What’s at risk if the protagonist cannot achieve their goal?

Stakes make the story matter. If your story stakes are undefined or unconvincing, readers may struggle to care about the outcome of your plot. And this will diminish their investment in your story.

How can you create a clear story goal and interesting story stakes to draw readers in?

Here are some tips.

Establish Your Story Goal Early In Your Story

ideally within the first few chapters.

It should be specific, tangible, and directly tied to your protagonist’s desires or needs

For instance, a protagonist may want to save their family from financial ruin. They may want to win a prestigious competition. They may want to uncover the truth about a mysterious event.

Make Your Story Stakes Personal To Your Protagonist

The story stakes should directly affect your protagonist’s life, happiness, and/or wellbeing.

The higher the stakes, the greater the tension and the stronger the reader’s desire to see if your protagonist will succeed.

Consider The Fictionary Story Arc

The Fictionary Story Arc provides a structured approach to crafting an entertaining narrative. The story goal usually arises from the inciting incident. It drives the protagonist’s actions until the climax (where they either achieve the goal or fail), resulting in the stakes playing out.

Ensure You Communicate The Story Goal And Stakes To The Reader

Readers should understand exactly what the protagonist is working towards and what they stand to lose. This creates a sense of urgency and tension that keeps them engaged.

A clear story goal and high stakes aren’t just optional extras. They’re foundational elements of a gripping narrative. By ensuring they’re present and well-defined in your manuscript, you’ll create a story that hooks your readers from the start.

5) A Lack of Tension and Conflict

lack of tension and conflict for story arcs
Tension and conflict are the lifeblood of any story.

They are the driving forces that keep readers flipping pages long into the night, yearning to discover what will happen next. If your manuscript lacks either, it will suffer. But don’t worry. You can remedy this issue with some careful thought and strategic planning.

A lack of tension often arises when there’s too much predictability in your narrative. If readers can foresee every twist and turn, the suspense dissipates, leaving them with little reason to keep reading. Similarly, conflict places obstacles in your protagonist’s path. Conflict challenges them and forces them to develop. Without it, your story can end up feeling flat, the protagonist’s journey lacking the struggle that makes their story binge-worthy.

So, how can you infuse your manuscript with the tension and conflict it needs to truly engage readers?

Here are some action points to guide you.

Understand The Difference Between Tension And Conflict

Tension is the threat of something bad happening, and conflict is the bad thing actually happening.

Say your protagonist is walking through the woods at night and a twig snaps behind them? Is someone following them? Does that mysterious person mean them harm? That’s tension, because the answers to those questions are unknown.

Now imagine there really is someone following your protagonist, they attack, and your protagonist defends themselves. That’s conflict, because the threat is real and bad things are happening.

Tension And Conflict Can Be Subtle

Also, remember that not all tension and conflict need to be dramatic or explosive. Sometimes, the most engrossing stories are those with subtle tension and internal conflict. So, don’t shy away from quieter moments of doubt, uncertainty, or emotional struggle.

Make Use Of Subtext

Think about an argument between a married couple.

When they argue, do they always explicitly state what’s making them angry? Of course not. You can add layers to tension by focusing on what isn’t being said. Subtext can add intrigue, which can hook readers in.

By consciously incorporating tension and conflict into your manuscript, you’ll create an engaging narrative. You’ll leave readers thinking about your story long after they’ve turned the last page.

Conclusion: 5 Reasons Your Manuscript Won’t Engage Readers

5 reasons your manuscript won't engage readers - your story arc

Engaging readers is no small feat, but it’s a challenge you can overcome by tackling these key areas:

  • Character development
  • Strategic story arc planning
  • Immersive world-building
  • Clear story goals and stakes
  • Tension and conflict

If you’re struggling to captivate readers, it’s worth revisiting these areas to see where you can make improvements.

Remember, your characters need to be more than names on a page. They should feel like living individuals with their own hopes, fears, and flaws. The Fictionary Story Arc takes your readers on a journey filled with difficulties and unexpected twists.

Your settings should transport readers to another place and time, and the stakes and goals of your story should resonate on a deep, emotional level. And finally, tension and conflict should be at the heart of your narrative, propelling the plot forward and keeping readers on the edge of their seats.

Addressing these five areas can boost reader engagement. They’ll turn your manuscript into a story that readers can’t put down.

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