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Reader Takeaway

May 30, 2013 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified May 30, 2013

You’ve spent months writing a novel, more months rewriting and editing. You’ve put together the plot, included characters who fit that plot, and you’ve slaved over—if not every jot and tittle—every word and punctuation mark.

And now you’re ready to release your story.

But is the story ready? Have you remembered every element?

Yes, you included all the fiction elements, even that sneaky subtext. And you used foreshadowing correctly, without giving away too much of the plot too soon. You didn’t drop a flashback into the first pages and you resolved all major plot threads.

So the story part of the story works. But what of the promises you made to the reader?

Hmm . . . Don’t remember making any? I’ll remind you that you did.

The moment you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, or even before that, when you decided that you’d give this writing thing a shot, you made a promise to your readers. Several of them, as a matter of fact. And your story isn’t done, isn’t ready for those readers, until you fulfill those promises.

So what are they, those promises you might not even know you’d made?

You promised an entertaining story.

You promised a believable story.

You promised a story that fits a genre if you write genre novels.

You promised something different—a new character, a different world, a different dilemma. A different outcome.

You promised cohesion and logic.

Did you deliver on these promises? If your story’s a solid one in terms of the mechanics and the major fiction elements, it’s likely that you did. At least you probably delivered on these implied promises. But what of the other promises? What of those promises that you—the individual you, and not the general writer you—promised? Did you fulfill those? Did you even promise anything in particular, something special that readers will be able to point to and say, “This writer promised me a story of emotion and loss and by God, she delivered”?

My question for you is this—what do you want readers to take away from your novel?

I’d love to be able to get you to pause right here, without being able to  see the rest of this article, without having distractions in your way, and have you answer that question: what do you want readers to take away from your work?

You may want each novel to touch readers in a similar way or you may have plans for every novel individually, plans different from any other story you write. And that’s fine, the takeaways of your books may be generally similar or wildly divergent. But whether you want to give the same type of takeaway or something unique each time, you should be providing something for your readers, something beyond the plot itself.

Not sure about what you can promise and deliver? How about I give you some prompts via questions? And then you let your imagination look for more.

What do you want readers to take away from your novels?

A feeling? Which one? To what degree?

A memory of a story event or events?

The memory of a character? What memory specifically?

An urge to act? On what? What kind of action?

Certainty about something? What something?


Awareness? Of what?

Insight? On what topic?

Curiosity? Over what?

A life lesson? Which?

A few laughs? Tears? Groans?

What is it you want to give your readers that no one else in the world will get because they didn’t read your book? Had you ever imagined that, that some part of the population will be carrying around thoughts or emotions or truth because they read it in one of your novels? That they will be carrying around your words and creations and insights? That you might influence someone to act or feel or dream? Maybe encourage them to live differently? Maybe simply encourage them to live?

What is it that you’re giving your readers to carry around? Giving them that will influence their decisions? Giving them to share with others?

Do you even want to give readers anything? Do you care if they take anything away from their time in your story world?

Make it Happen
Maybe you know precisely what you want readers to take away from their jaunt into your story. Did you guarantee they’d get it? How? What exactly did you do to give your readers any of those items I mentioned?

Or maybe what you wanted to pass on was something not on this list—how’d you do it, pass on that special something to your readers? Can you point to places in your manuscript where you took steps to provide the takeaway, where you clothed your promise with flesh and made it real?

I’m not getting on your case today. I am suggesting that you might be missing out on ways of making your stories stand out, ways of making your fiction different from every other book coming into the market.

Promise your readers something no other writer is promising. And then deliver on that promise. Yes, deliver on the general promises as well. But give your readers something they can’t get anywhere else.

Do you give value? Enjoyment? Do you make readers think, make them feel?

Do you excite them? Surprise them? Alarm them? Anger them?

Do you touch them in any way?

If not, why not? Why not go beyond the basics of storytelling—this happened, then this happened, and then this happened, the end.  Why not go beyond the events on the page, beyond giving all to your characters, and give to the reader as well?

You can do it; the impulse is in you. You want to tell stories for a reason. And one reason is to influence the reader. You just need to decide how you’ll do it.

Make promises to your readers, promises only you can fulfill. And then fulfill those promises. The reader will notice. Your stories will be better, stronger, for having an element that’s all your own. They’ll be meaningful. And you’ll have the satisfaction of not only matching characters to events and directing fictional people through their problem-prone world, but you’ll also influence readers, real people, who are navigating their own problem-prone worlds.

Give readers something more than two-dimensional people working through an adventure. Touch their minds and emotions. Speak into their present and give them considerations for the future. Help them make sense of the past.

Give the readers a takeaway, something to remember you by.

Write fiction that’s more than make-believe.

Make promises throughout your stories and fulfill them by story’s end.


 For fun, an instrumental version of Promises, Promises (Burt Bacharach and Hal David)



Tags: ,     Posted in: A Writer's Life, Writing Tips

7 Responses to “Reader Takeaway”

  1. Gina Conkle says:

    Compelling blog. Thanks for the writer expanding thoughts.

  2. Hmmm, personal promises. I’m wondering if these elements would also be important marketing tools. My novel The Heart of Applebutter Hill is half out (e-versions but not print). I hadn’t realized how much I had been thinking of a lot of these things while I was writing. My heroine is a fully developed 14-year-old girl who is legally blind, and I want the reader to take away a heightened awareness about the differences that having a disability both make and don’t make. My main focus, though was to give them an exciting, multi-fasceted story — couldn’t get most people to read anything about blind girls without it. I’m keeping this post handy, as it has triggered some important realizations for me. Thanks.

  3. Donna, I can see how you could use your promises in marketing. My only worry would be that you end up promoting the book as an issue book rather than a novel, rather than that exciting, multi-faceted story that you mentioned. It probably depends on where you’re doing your promoting and how you approach it.

    When readers get the idea that a book is a message story, one promoting an agenda or point of view, they might not be as eager to read it. That is, the audience would be smaller for a message story than for a rollicking good novel.

    Again, it depends on where you were focusing this kind of promotion. If it was only on certain websites or in a magazine for readers already interested in such issues, it might work well. As part of your general marketing for the book, probably not as well. And you don’t want to give away too much beforehand. Maybe this is the kind of thing you want readers promoting rather than alluding to it yourself. Let readers discover this aspect of the novel and talk about what it means to them.

    You brought up some good thoughts and ideas to consider. Thank you for prompting them.

  4. Robin Lyons says:

    Thanks Beth, your words of wisdom are always appreciated. And, the music was nice too. :)

  5. Thanks, Robin. Glad you liked it. (And I just had to play the music clip again.)