Sometimes writers try to solicit audience participation by injecting more action into their stories. They erroneously add a fight scene here or a chase scene there in the belief that it will capture the audience through sheer pace alone. They fail to realise that action works best only if it is built upon the foundation of rising stakes, anticipation, suspense.
Firstly, the audience has to care about the character whose life is placed in peril. This means the character has to be finely crafted to evoke sympathy. Crafting sympathetic characters in a feature film or novel is crucial if we are to care about the story at all. I have written about this topic extensively on this site.
At the level of plot, the story benefits through setbacks that delay the hero’s achieving the story goal. Like the drawing back of an arrow, a setback allows the shaft to travel all the faster when released. The setbacks take several forms – barriers and reversals being the most common.
Think about the number of barriers that Sam Gerard encounters in trying to find Richard Kimble in The Fugitive. Each ramps up the tension by allowing Kimble to stay one step ahead and increases our involvement in the story.
“Audience participation is essential if your story is to succeed. Work at learning the craft until it is mastered.”
How about the reversal in Edge of Tomorrow when Major William Cage meets with General Brigham who is in charge of operations?
The General wants Cage to film the Allied assault against the enemy for purposes of morale. Cage wants no part of it. When Cage tries to blackmail Brigham to force him to reconsider his decision, he ends up being stripped of his rank and sent to the front as a lowly private instead. It is a reversal that sets up the entire story.
In my science fiction novel, Scarab, the protagonist, Jack Wheeler, is confronted with a devastating choice in trying to rescue the woman he loves. He can save her from certain death, but only if he stays away from her forever. It is a reversal in expectation that increases our involvement in the story.
Placing your hero in a situation of undeserved misfortune, then tightening the screws, is one technique that is bound to help increase audience participation in your stories
A sympathetic hero, in a feature film or novel, who encounters obstacles and reversals in trying to achieve his goal, increases audience participation in the story.
Catch my latest YouTube video on how to write story hooks by clicking on this link.