Posted by: nancycurteman | August 26, 2013

How to Use Natural Disasters to Keep Readers Reading

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Natural_Disaster_Wallpapers-1A good way to keep a reader turning the pages of your novel is to raise his level of concern. Make the reader worry about what might happen and he will continue reading. Nature is expert at producing crises that cause conflicts in story characters that lead to anxiety on the part of readers.

Pick your crisis. You may choose floods, hurricanes, volcanoes, tornadoes, locust plagues, droughts, blizzards, wildfires. Most any natural disaster will do. However, the disaster itself is not what creates tension. It’s the lead up to it. Once the disaster occurs, the worry is over. So, make your disaster pending. Describe what your characters are doing to survive the impending onslaught. Your reader will worry that they may not succeed in time.

Make the disaster unexpected. Have your characters going about their daily lives completely oblivious to the possibility that they might lose their lives in a flood or tornado. Your reader knows and he’s worried.

Another strategy is to put your characters in denial. Have your protagonist race about trying in vain to convince your story people of the impending disaster. Have them refuse to believe him, even laugh off his warnings. Your reader will be as anxious as your protagonist.

Consider a natural disaster as a vehicle to keep readers reading your novel.

More writing tips:

Backstory: 10 things a Mystery Writer Should Know
9 Ways to Create Tension in a Mystery Novel


  1. Have you seen the movie, The Impossible?

    It focuses on the sudden tsunami and its aftermath. Most of the story is about the struggle to survive AFTER the wave has receded.

    It’s a great film. One of the best we’ve seen this year.


    • Nancy, I have heard about that film. I suspect I could get it from Netflix. You’re right, a crisis can definitely create another conflict: decisions about how to manage in the aftermath.


  2. What a great way to add more suspense to a story, I can imagine this working well in lots of different genres. My current story doesn’t lend itself well to natural disasters, but I do use severe weather to frustrate my characters.


    • Jodi, Everything I wrote about in this post can be adapted to severe weather and its possible impact on your protagonist’s journey.


  3. Often, I forget about the weather, but recently I’m starting to get more attentive to it and adding it into my story. Thanks for the advice!


    • I think weather can be an important element of the general setting of a scene.


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