5 Weird Ways to Delight Your Readers with Interactivity

want to engage readers_When you hear the word “interactivity,” what pops into your mind? Probably ebooks with linked content or apps with built-in games and personalization features. Your mind probably turns to digital solutions and transmedia storytelling–which are great, but might not be your cup of tea.

But did you know that you can make your writing interactive without adding digital bells and whistles? This post takes a look at five weird and wonderful ways that you can bring interactivity to your writing. Enjoy!

Technique #1: Repetition, Rhyme, and Rhythm

brown bearAs any parent of small children knows, little kids love to listen to the same story over and over and over. Many picture book authors use elements such as rhyme and repetition to connect with their young audience. Little kids love the opportunity to recognize patterns and join in on the “chorus”.

Bill Martin‘s classic children’s book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, provides a great example. The question “Brown bear, Brown Bear, what do you see?” is repeated throughout the story, with modifications for each new animal and each new color. The repetition encourages young readers to join in for each question and answer.

2. Provide an Activity

ActivityAuthors can encourage readers to interact with the story by including activities that complement the text. That’s what Steve (the Dirtmeister) Tomecek does with several  “Try This!” sidebars in his new title Dirtmeister’s Nitty Gritty Planet Earth. The simple experiments demonstrate key concepts in the book. They’re also lots of fun, like the “Layers of Time” experiment–in which readers create a science experiment they can eat!

Author/illustrator Roxie Munro invites younger readers to help delivery vehicles find their way through eleven intricately drawn mazes in her picture book Market Maze. Each illustrated spread also includes hidden objects for readers to find.

3. Talk Directly to the Reader

PigeonBustMo Willems’ classic Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus begins with the bus driver speaking directly to readers.

“Hi! I’m the bus driver. Listen, I’ve got to leave for a little while, so can you watch things for me until I get back? Thanks. Oh, and remember: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!”.

In the next spread, the pigeon arrives on the scene… and proceeds to try to talk the reader into letting him (of course!) drive the bus.

What better way to delight young readers than to invite them to tell a story character “no!”

B. J. Novak similarly invites reader participation in his hilarious read-aloud, The Book with No Pictures. It begins:

BookWithNoPictures_3D-300x423“You might think a book with no pictures seems boring and serious. Except . . . here’s how books work. Everything written on the page has to be said by the person reading it aloud. Even if the words say . . .


“Even if the words are a preposterous song about eating ants for breakfast, or just a list of astonishingly goofy sounds like BLAGGITY BLAGGITY and GLIBBITY GLOBBITY.”

As the text becomes more and more ridiculous, the author encourages the child–who’s presumably listening to the story–to make sure the adult reader is actually saying all those crazy words!

4. Provide a Puzzle.

WildDiscoveriesFrontCoverKids love to figure things out for themselves, so you can practically guarantee reader engagement by giving them a puzzle to solve. That’s what Heather L. Montgomery does when writing about the wildly striped psychedelic frogfish in her book Wild Discoveries: Wacky New Animals.

Just like you are the only person with your FINGERPRINT pattern, each frogfish has its own set of stripes. If the fish to the left committed a crime… Could you pick it out of this lineup?”

She doesn’t underestimate her readers, either. This is no easy puzzle to solve!

5. Ask Questions.

101questionsAlice Jablonsky’s 101 Questions About Desert Life is written as a list of questions and answers. Its format encourages the reader to page through and find her own question rather than reading the book from start to finish—especially because many of the questions sound like they arose directly from a school classroom!

Heather Montgomery also invites readers to think like a scientist by sharing unanswered questions with them. For example, when she introduces the giant stick insect known as Chan’s Megastick, she asks readers,

Are these facts true for Chan’s megastick? Since ONLY THREE have been found so far, we’ll have to wait to find out!”

Interactivity Encourages Readers to Engage

You can use interactive elements to help illustrate a tricky concept; to spark questions and discussion; or simply invite kids to play in your story world. Whatever type of interactivity you bring to your writing, though, it can help you get–and keep!–your readers’ attention.

So what are you waiting for? Give it a try!

How to Write Your Characters’ Thoughts: Third-Person Limited POV

Last week, we talked about writing characters’ thoughts when you have a first-person point of view (POV) story. It’s just as important to show what your characters are thinking when you’re writing in third person–but it can definitely be tricky! It’s easy to slip into a constant stream of he thought/she thought. Who wants that?


Today’s post gives 4 different ways to communicate your main character’s thoughts when writing in third-person limited POV.

Why only your main character’s thoughts, you ask? Because in third-person limited POV, the narrative is written as if someone is peering over your main character’s shoulder to tell the story. Unless your main character is a mind-reader, he or she won’t know what other characters are thinking. In omniscient POV, your all-knowing, all-seeing narrator has access to all your characters’ thoughts–but that’s a kettle of fish for another post.

Four Ways to Show Characters’ Thoughts

1. Communicate thoughts directly.

She sometimes wondered if any of them could actually play an instrument.”–City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare

This method uses “thinking tags” to identify thoughts the way dialog tags identify speech and speaker. These would include thought (eg, “He thought the lecture would never end”), but that’s not the only tag available to you. Others include:

Continue Reading

How to Write Your Characters’ Thoughts

I’ve been asking for questions this month, and you all have come through with questions on everything from how to create an author website to the details of dialog and other writing craft-related topics. A surprisingly large number of questions had to do with how to write characters’ thoughts in stories told in different points of view (POV).


It’s an excellent question! Should thoughts be written in first person or third person? Past or present tense? Should you italicize? Should you put thoughts in quotes? Read on to learn how you can communicate what your characters are thinking–without confusing your readers. This post will focus on first-person POV.

First: What’s Point of View (POV)?

Point of view refers to where the author places the “camera” when writing a scene. First-person POV means that the camera is seeing what the main character (“I”) sees, thinks, and knows:

First Person: I spotted Susan walking down the street. 

Third-person limited POV means that the camera is limited to what your main character (“he” or “she”) sees, thinks, and knows, but you aren’t looking directly through that character’s eyeballs:Continue Reading

Do You Make These Mistakes in Your First Chapter?

Do you make these Ch. 1 mistakes

That opening chapter: you know it’s all-important, right? You only have a few pages–maybe a few paragraphs–to set the scene, introduce your main character, establish enough of a story world that readers aren’t hopelessly confused, and (let’s not forget!) snag the reader’s attention.

These mistakes can sabotage your best efforts, so readers won’t give your book a chance.* Read on to see if you’re making any of them!

1. Your story starts too slowly.

Starting your book too slowly can be a fatal error. Not that you should necessarily begin with an action scene (and, IMO, starting off with a scene from the climax is cheating, even if Stephanie Meyer does do it in Twilight), but start off with something interesting.

Like dialog or your main character’s thoughts or a surprising observation. Yes, action is okay, too.

Avoid pages of description. Avoid dumping backstory. Sure, the reader will need to know that your main character’s cat died when she was only five and this stressful event has shaped her attitude toward cats and men in hats ever since–but do they really need to know on page one? If not, save if for when after we care about said character.

Also resist the urge to explain everything. It’s okay if the reader isn’t 100% sure what’s happening or why. As long as you include enough information to ground the reader–hook the reader–in your unique voice, character, and story world, she’ll wait to learn more.

2. Your story opening is cliched.

Even if you’re the best writer in the world, certain story openings have been so overused that they’ll automatically apply the brakes to the narrative. Not what you’re looking for in an opening.

What are these cliched beginnings? I’m so glad you asked! Here are a few to watch out for:

  • Waking up
  • First day of school
  • Last day of school/first day of summer vacation
  • Looking into the mirror (especially as a way to segue into character description)
  • Protagonist is moving back to her hometown just after a divorce or breakup

Note that the meaning of “cliched beginning” varies somewhat from genre to genre. If you write children’s literature, you probably don’t need to worry about the divorce/moving back to hometown example. If you write romance, you probably don’t need to check for “first day of school” openings.

Be aware of commonly used tropes in your genre–and then make sure you don’t unconsciously use too many of them.

3. Your story opening is confusing.

Maybe you don’t have any trouble with starting your book too slowly. Maybe you’ve got lots going on in those opening pages–action, dialog, world building, the whole shebang!

(Yes, I just used SHEBANG in a blog post. And not even on a dare :D)

If that describes you, make sure you don’t swing too far in the opposite direction. Too much going on in the opening pages can easily lead to a crowd of very confused readers, and confused readers tend to close books. Not what you’re looking for.

Here are some common confusion-generators in chapter 1:

  • Too many characters: Try to limit your opening scene to 2 or 3 characters, unless some of those characters are nameless “extras”. Otherwise your reader will have a hard time keeping track of who’s who.
  • Too few dialog tags: If you include dialog here, make sure that you’re slightly more generous than usual with the dialog tags. I’m not talking about using “she drawled” and “he growled” in place of good old “he said”/”she said”. “Said” is just fine, thank you, as it won’t distract the reader from the story. However, make sure that most lines of dialog have something to identify the speaker, whether that’s the character’s name or an action tag (eg, “Carla bit her lip”) or a bit of description.
  • Failure to ground the reader in a specific place, setting, and/or time: I know, in #1 I told you not to include too much description or explanation about the story’s setting. At the same time, though, it’s important to give your reader just enough information that he can create a sort of mental “placeholder image.” Look for those telling details–details that convey multiple pieces of information about a scene. For instance, mentioning a horseless carriage firmly places your story in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s as well as giving the reader a visual cue.
  • Assuming the reader knows more than they do: This is probably the easiest mistake to make–and the most difficult one to find for yourself. The problem is that, as the author, you know all those details about character motivations and backstory and essential plot details. If you happen to miss mentioning one of these essential details in the opening pages of your book, your subconscious is likely to fill in the necessary information without you noticing. The best fix for this problem? Make sure you have a critique partner or beta reader! A fresh set of eyes can take note of places where he or she is confused.

*Some of you are probably coming up with examples of bestsellers that make one or more of these mistakes. Yep, they’re out there–books that start with lengthy passages of description or backstory or such a confusing stretch of dialog that it leaves the reader’s head spinning in circles. Of course, those books are usually successful in spite of the “mistakes” in their openings. Or because the authors are so amazing that they can turn a “mistake” inside out so it works. If you’re not a best-selling author, though, I’d try to avoid these page-stoppers!

Your turn: What writing hiccups make you stop reading in those opening pages? What cliches do you see getting overused in your genre? Please share in the comments!