If you want readers to truly love your story, it’s important to ensure they are satisfied. This isn’t the same as making them happy, and it’s doesn’t necessarily mean giving them what they want. To satisfy your reader, you need to tell a complete story that makes logical sense, and gives your readers what you’ve promised them.
Let’s take a look at what it means to satisfy your readers and how to go about it!
Happy vs satisfied
Readers are often happy when they get what the want in a story. This can be an event, a character development, a relationship, or an outcome. Equally, they are unhappy if one of their favorite characters dies, a couple they wanted together gets torn apart, or if there is an outcome they didn’t like.
However, it’s possible for a reader to be unhappy with events that unfold but still love a story because it leaves them satisfied. It’s possible to give readers what they want and have them not like a story because it’s too neat and tidy, which made it unrealistic and unsatisfying.
Satisfaction happens when events occur in a way that makes sense and could believably occur in real life. If your reader is satisfied, they are far more likely to enjoy what they are reading, regardless of how happy they are about what’s taking place.
For example, let’s look at Harry Potter for a moment. (I use Harry Potter a lot for examples on this blog because it’s such a widely read book. But if you haven’t read it and are planning to, skip the rest of this paragraph because I’m about to give a serious spoiler.) When the last book came out, most people seemed to love the book itself, but they took issue with the epilogue. This was largely because it seemed unrealistic that all of the characters would end up happily coupled with their first real significant other, which made it a touch unsatisfying. Many people were rooting for those characters throughout the story and wanted them to end up happy. But seeing everyone end up happy didn’t ring true to many.
How to satisfy your reader
Build storylines that pays off
If you’re going to spend time building a storyline, it’s important that readers get to see it pay off. There is nothing more frustrating as a reader than investing in a storyline only to have it take an unrealistic turn. For example, if you’re building a romantic relationship between two of your characters, it’s okay to draw it out and have a handful on minor setbacks. That much can easily happen in real life. However, it’s incredibly unsatisfying if you never let your characters get together, or if they get together and separate quickly.
If you’re asking your readers to invest in a storyline, give them the payoff. If you don’t, you’re breaking a promise to your readers. A well-executed story is one that satisfies readers and creates new realistic problems. Going back to the example in the last paragraph, if you’re building a romantic relationship between characters, let them get together instead of breaking them up immediately to “keep things interesting.” Couples still have conflicts, issues, and sweet moments after they’re in a relationship. Write the relationship you’ve asked people to invest in. It will satisfy your readers and may prove to be a fun writing challenge.
Focus on the characters not the reader
This may be a post about satisfying readers, but ironically, one of the best ways to satisfy them is not to focus on them while you’re writing. Consider them, sure, and you can absolutely prioritize them while you’re editing and revising. But they shouldn’t be your focus when you’re writing.
It can be easy to get caught up in the idea of surprising the reader or keeping them invested by denying them what they want. But if you play that game for too long, the reader may start to feel like they’ve been played or lead on and walk away. Additionally, if you’re focusing on the reader, it means your not focusing on the story and on what would make the most believable, logical, sense.
Paying attention to the reader can serve as a distraction when you’re writing. Instead, pay attention to your characters. If you hone in on what makes the most sense for them, it will likely result in reader satisfaction because it will read realistically. Don’t go for the shock factor. Go for the believability factor.
Focus on the characters, not yourself
Similarly, it can be easy to get caught up in your own fantasy of what you want for your characters just because you want it–even if it doesn’t make sense based on the rest of the story. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cut scenes I’d written just because I wanted the events in them to happen.
But if the scene is rushing a storyline or doesn’t fit in the story at all, it’ll lead to an unsatisfying and frustrating reader experience.
However, it’s okay to draft scenes like this! If you’re anything like me, part of the reason I write is that I can make anything I want to happen on the page. That’s part of the joy of writing. But in the end, you have to step up and put your characters first, which may mean cutting scenes that you really enjoyed writing.
Focus on realistic, consistant character behaviors
The last two points talked about focusing on your characters. This one talks about what exactly you should be paying attention to when you do. It really comes down to believability and character consistency. If you have your character acting in a way that readers would find unbelievable or in a way that they have never acted before, you’re setting yourself up for a string of unsatisfying events.
For example, if your characters are preparing for a major battle, it would not be believable for the typically thorough chief planner to overlook an obvious possible error just so the story can have a complication. This wouldn’t be consistent with the character’s established thoroughness, which would lead to an unsatisfied reader.
Don’t rely on cliches
Lastly, don’t rely on cliches. Sure, in some cases, you might be able to make the argument that it’s a cliche for a reason, but for the most part, cliches are so overdone that they’ve become predictable. That predictability can read as inauthentic, which can leave your reader unsatisfied.
Additionally, if you rely too much on a cliche, you may end up stuffing your characters into boxes and roles they don’t belong in, in order to get your character to fill a cliched role. This would again mean that you end up having your characters behave in an unrealistic, inconsistent way in order to do so.
However, if you think you have a great idea on how to twist a cliche and make it something new, you should absolutely go for it! This can be a great way to refresh an overused concept. If you execute it well, readers will likely be satisfied by your ability to give them a new take on a familiar idea. And because you’re taking a new approach, it’s unlikely that you’ll box your characters into unsatisfying roles.
I hope this helps you create stories that satisfy your readers!
Now it’s your turn: What stories have left you the most satisfied? What do you think about when you try to satisfy your readers? Tell me about it in the comments!
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