You Need To Connect With Your Readers (With Your Writing)

connect with your readers

We’re all looking for a connection — and that includes your readers. How do you connect with your readers? Draw them in with sensory language.

Just the other day, as I sat in my office, trapped in a large-scale Zoom meeting, I wasn’t just half-engaged — I was barely there at all. With 30 participants on the call, I had to scroll through multiple screens to see everyone. I’d hear the ding of my email and flip to my inbox to see who’d reached out. I noticed I had chipped a nail and grabbed the file from my desk to smooth out the snag. Then back to Zoom and the yammering on about this and that. When the hour was up, I went back to editing a book and lamented my wasted time. I hadn’t connected with anyone on that call.

The day before, I’d completed my weekly grocery run, moving through the one-way aisles like a ghost, grabbing the week’s necessities. Six feet apart, don’t touch your face, sanitize after contact, don’t cough, don’t sneeze — the messages ran through my mind, emblazoned on my consciousness like a scar. I may as well have been a robot with no senses, no smarts, no soul.

This isn’t the way I want to live and it’s not the way I want to feel. I don’t mind masking up and keeping a respectable distance to protect others, but I don’t like the empty, zombified feeling I get in public. I crave human contact while I’m out and about and I refuse to be afraid of other people; I’m not wired like that. What I miss and want most is connection.

The click of connection

They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that satisfying click when I make full eye contact with someone else, even if it’s my dog. It’s different from looking at someone’s nose or their forehead or even the point between their eyebrows. There’s a physical click when my eyes lock in with someone else’s. I can feel it even if that person is across the room.

That’s the click of connection. And I crave it. I need it even more than I did 18 months ago as the world changed. Connection makes me feel human.

So I started an experiment. I decided that wherever I go and whomever I encounter, I will make a concerted effort to make eye contact. You know what I found? Not everyone is game. Not everyone wants to be seen. I can look at someone’s eyes all day long, but if they don’t accept the connection, I don’t experience that satisfying click that resonates down into my solar plexus and releases those happy endorphins.

It’s similar to writing a book. The reader comes to you to make a connection. They’re ready and willing and have even spent money to be with you. It’s your job to create that click — to make “eye contact” and give them that satisfying feeling all the way down to their solar plexus. Otherwise, they leave disappointed.

Draw readers in with sensory language

But how do you do that on a written page? It’s actually pretty simple, although it’s not fast or easy. You not only offer the reader your eyes, you give them all of your senses.

Editing Guide bannerOne way to connect with your reader is to bring them close — to make them feel like they’re right there in the room with you — and you do that by using sensory language.

Sensory language is just what it sounds like; it’s the language of our five senses. When you use sensory language, you describe what you see, feel, hear, taste, and smell. You don’t tell the reader, “I was sad when my girlfriend left me.” You write, “When she said she was leaving, my throat clamped tight and a bank of tears flooded my eyes. I blinked hard, trying not to cry, but one hot tear escaped and salted my upper lip.”

Writing in detail takes time, but not as much as you might think. There are a lot of resources for learning how to do this, but my favorite is Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott.

Lamott encourages writers to look at their world in small sections, the size of a one-inch picture frame. “All I have to do is write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame,” she says. That sounds easy enough, doesn’t it?

And when you’re frenzied about how much you need to write, step back and look through that one-inch picture frame. “All we’re going to do for now is to write a description of the river at sunrise, or the young child swimming in the pool at the club, or the first time the man sees the woman he will marry.” That’s it. Construct the details of your book by looking through these small windows, use sensory language, and you’ll make a connection with your reader.

This post first appeared on The Book Professor Blog. Reposted with permission.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. I have 2 books fiction snow beers the life you dream of but really don’t want and I just put out the DC Chronicles the theme project in my detective series

  2. I appreciated every word in this post… and I learned something important about connection and detail in my writing! Thank you for taking the time to write this article. Most of all, your effort inspired me when I needed a lift today. -Scott

  3. I may go a bit overboard with sensory perception in my writing if that is possible. I love to develop my characters but do not want to turn off my readers with too much. Is there some indicator that can tell me when, enough is enough?

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