Capturing A Reader’s Attention

This blog post is based on Writer's Connect newsletter Issue 56. It expands on this week's top tip, which highlighted the limited attention span of the average reader. In the era of on-demand content and instant gratification, engaging your audience early is more important than ever. Here, we look at some methods of capturing a reader's attention (and holding it through to the epilogue)!

Coffee cup and flower - Capturing A Reader's Attention

First Impressions Are Everything

The moment you post or submit your work, you enter into fierce competition with millions of talented (and hungry) artists. Many of them would happily crawl over your lifeless body to claim even one of your loyal readers.

I am, of course (mostly), exaggerating. But it's true that the competition is overwhelming, and you only get one shot at capturing a reader's attention. It's not a stretch to say that most readers decide whether they'll continue reading your work after the first line.

An alternative reading for the previous paragraph is that first lines are really, really important.

Your opening line has to work almost as hard as the rest of your work combined. It needs to grab your reader by the face, pull them in until their eyes are almost touching, and demand that they continue reading. Otherwise ... well, they probably won't.

How do you make your first line do this?


Consider the feeling of encountering heavy traffic at an unusual time of day. You know that something has happened up ahead, but you're not sure what it is yet. Was there an accident? If so, how big of an accident was it? Was anyone hurt? It was probably just some kid on their phone rear-ending someone.

No, it can't be. There's too much traffic.

Maybe someone died.

This is the feeling you want your first line to leave your readers with. Posing questions you have no intention of answering anytime soon is a great way of capturing a reader's interest!

Second (and Third) Impressions are Everything

Unfortunately, a strong first line will not carry your reader (or your book) to the checkout. You must be utterly relentless in your efforts to keep your reader engaged. For every question you answer or mystery you solve for your reader, you should present two more! They should never be left without something to look forward to.

Tempting as it is to tie up loose ends sooner rather than later, it's better to let them hang. As much as your reader thinks they want resolution, they are just as interested in the tension leading up to it (if not more so).

None of this is to say that your entire body of work needs to be on the knife's edge. Sections with little or no tension do have their place. Unless there are forces at work in the background, however, they run the risk of chipping away at reader interest. Before showing your characters at rest, make sure they have earned it!

Everything is Everything

While it's true that you can ease off the gas a little after your reader is hooked, it's important that your writing maintains purpose throughout. You want your manuscript to be a cohesive whole, with all the individual parts working towards a common goal. Before you write anything, ask yourself:

How is this going to serve the wider story?

These are just a few of the ways you can go about capturing a reader's attention.

Word of the Day

abject (adj.)

The meaning of this less-than-cheerful word depends on whether it's used in relation to (1) an experience; or (2) a person (or that person's actions).
In the case of the former (1), it means the event is experienced in the extreme, or to the utmost degree. However, it can only be used to describe an experience that is bad or unpleasant (e.g., horror or poverty).
Regarding a person (2), abject suggests that they (or their behaviours) are wholly without dignity or self-respect.

(1) The air raid siren filled the town with abject dread.
(2) The man was an abject liar, with no regard for others.

Quotidian Quote

"I try to leave out the parts that people skip."
~ Elmore Leonard

Get Competitive!

A selection of current writing competitions YOU can enter!

The Raymond Carver Short Story Contest

Format: Short story
Theme: Any
Word Count: 10,000
Entry Fee: $17
Prize: $2,000
Closes: 15/05/2022

Click here for more details

Raymond Carver Contest - Capturing A Reader's Attention

Puchi Award

Format: Any
Theme: Any
Word Count: No limit
Entry Fee: Free
Prize: €8,000 (plus publication)
Closes: 15/05/2022

Click here for more details

Puchi Award - Capturing A Reader's Attention

Time Travelers Contest

Format: Any
Theme: Time travel
Word Count: No limit
Entry Fee: Free
Prize: €2,000
Closes: 25/05/2022

Click here for more details

Time Travelers Contest - Capturing A Reader's Attention

The Outsideleft Short Story Competition

Format: Short story
Theme: Concrete
Word Count: 1,000
Entry Fee: Free
Prize: £100 (plus trophy)
Closes: 31/05/2022

Click here for more details


Outsideleft Short Story Competition

Photo credit Sixteen Miles Out, Unsplash

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