Giving Readers a Stake in Your Story

jockeyI don’t like stories about gambling. They set my teeth on edge because of the inevitable slough of despair the character falls into when the addiction gets the better of him. Despite that, Let It Ride is one of my favorite movies, probably because although the story takes place as Hialeah amid the horse racing culture, it is not a movie about gambling. It’s the story of how the forces of the universe align to give Jay Trotter (Richard Dreyfuss) one perfect day, and how he had the courage to accept the gift.

My favorite lines are when Pam (Teri Garr) says, “I don’t know why people have to gamble. Why can’t they just watch the horses run?” Trotter responds, “Without gambling, there is no horse racing.”

I’m with Pam — someday I’d like to go to a racecourse and watch the horses run, but I can also see why there is no horseracing without gambling. First, there would be no income, and second, no one but those directly involved — racecourse owners, horse owners, trainers, and jockeys — would have any stake in the matter. Gambling gives anyone who has the price of a bet a stake in the outcome of the race.

This is similar to writing — if an author doesn’t give readers a stake in the outcome of the story, then there is no reason for anyone to read the book. Since there is no gamble when it comes to a book (well, except for the gamble of whether the reader will enjoy it or whether they will feel cheated for having wasted the money) the stake has to be an emotional one. For example, Kendra, the main character in Mickey Hoffman’s mystery, School of Lies, is a special education teacher in an inner city school. The book’s true-to-life atmosphere is appealing to anyone who enjoys mystery and mayhem, but it’s especially appealing to special education teachers. Special education teachers — or any teacher — who have been in similar schools and situations perhaps wish they could have said the same things or done the same things Kendra did, which gives them a stake in the outcome of her dilemma. Of course, anyone who ever went to high school would also have a stake in the story, if for no other reason than to see the truth of what they suspected — that much intrigue was going on behind the scenes.

For this same reason, a popular main character in many books is a mother juggling home life and career, which immediately gives a large section of the population a stake in the story. You see the same thing dozens of times a day in your sidebar ads — “mother in (the name of your city, which supposedly gives you an added stake in the matter) gets skinny”; “mother discovers secret to youthful skin”; “mother earns a fortune working at home.”

Your choice of characters and their predicament are not the only ways to give readers a stake in the outcome of your story. You can make readers a part of the story by giving your characters characteristics that people can identify. You make readers involved by stirring up their emotions. You show them what is happening instead of explaining every detail, and let their own reactions to the action become part of the story.

Giving people a stake in your story is not exactly the same thing as getting them to bet a bit of cash on a horse race, but getting them to pony up a bit of emotion while reading your story will give them greater winnings in the long run.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

Come See My Etchings!

I couldn’t resist using the old come-on line for the title of this article, but etchings I’m referring to aren’t my etchings. They are the work of Mickey Hoffman, a talented artist and author. (She wrote the mysteries School of Lies and Deadly Traffic, published by Second Wind Publishing.) The first etching is one Mickey did of Beijing, and the second is Myanmar.

If you’d like to see how involved the etching process is, check out Mickey’s blog, What the heck is an etching? She shows step-by-step what exactly goes into the making of her etchings.

If you are more interested in travel than in how to make an etching, here are a few of Mickey’s wonderful travel blogs:

Up and Down, More from Tibet

Myanmar: Bagan, a City for Dreamers

The Islands and the Death Railway

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to check out Mickey’s books:

SCHOOL OF LIES: by Mickey Hoffman is a funny mystery novel about a dysfunctional public school.

DEADLY TRAFFIC: The local sex trade flourishes and girls are disappearing from Standard High

Brag Time!

I know I said my time for self-promotion is past, but I didn’t say I wouldn’t brag, and wow, is this something to brag about! I just saw a review on for More Deaths Than One, and either Mickey Hoffman’s resolution for the New Year is to be kind to other authors, or she really liked the book. I’m going with the second option. Thank you, Mickey! I hope everyone reads the review. It’s the sort of review we all dream about and seldom see.

What are you waiting for? Read this book. Now. “More Deaths” is much better than any “bestseller” out there. The plot is constantly surprising and intricate, the characters draw you into the tale and the overall writing is top notch.” –Mickey Hoffman, author of School of Lies.

You can read the first chapter of More Deaths Than One by clicking on the More Deaths Than One tab at the top of this blog. You can also download the first thirty percent of More Deaths Than One free from Smashwords. Hmmm. Do you think I mentioned the title enough?