How To Make Your Readers Feel Like They Belong

2015 Artwork Stories Belonging sketch

Although this is an article about sci-fi/fantasy storytelling and building a fanbase – I’m going to have to start by talking about TV shows for a while. This is because, at the time of writing, the most recent thing I’ve become almost obsessed with is an old TV show. So, it seemed like the best example to use when talking about how to make your audience more interested in your work.

Anyway, at the the time of writing, I’m absolutely fascinated by an old sci-fi show from the 1990s called “Babylon 5“. In case you’ve never heard of it before, it’s a show about interplanetary politics on a space station – and, yes, this is actually a lot more interesting than it probably sounds. Just don’t judge it by the first episode alone.

Like “Stargate SG-1”, “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, “Game Of Thrones” and a whole host of other sci-fi/fantasy TV shows, it’s very easy to geek out about “Bablyon 5”. And, well, I thought that I’d take a look at one reason why, in case it’s useful to you.

One of the main reasons why shows like these attract such a large fanbase is because they’re often focused on things that are greater than any one individual character. Yes, the characters are usually extremely well-written, but they’re also often parts of various organisations or teams.

To use an old example, Captain Kirk might have been the most recognisable character in the original “Star Trek” TV series from the 1960s. However, he’s also part of Starfleet and he has a large crew of other interesting characters (eg: Bones, Uhura, Chekhov, Scotty, Sulu etc…) that he works with. If the show had just been about Captain Kirk, then it probably wouldn’t have the fanbase that it does today.

So, why do stories about organisations and/or teams often attract a larger fanbase than stories about individual characters?

Well, it’s all to do with belonging. Whilst these kinds of stories often turn up in other genres (eg: detective shows such as “NCIS”), they’re most popular in the sci-fi and fantasy genres and there’s probably a good reason for this.

According to a popular (and not entirely accurate) view of modern history – up until relatively recently, the people who have been ardent fans of sci-fi and/or fantasy were often… well… nerds and geeks (of one kind or another).

They probably weren’t the most popular kids in school when they were younger. They probably weren’t people who really “fit in” or were really seen as “cool” by the mainstream standards of the time. In other words, they didn’t really feel that we belonged.

Of course, this experience is hardly exclusive to nerds and geeks – there are many other valid reasons why someone might not feel that they “belong” to the culture, school, religion, social group etc… around them.

And, well, sci-fi and fantasy stories that revolve around organisations, teams, noble houses etc… rather than individual characters give us a glimpse into an imagined world where people do belong to the things that they belong to and actually benefit from belonging to something.

They show us things that we ourselves would actually want to belong to (eg: it’s no coincidence that Star Trek fans are famed for dressing up in Starfleet uniforms at conventions) and, because these stories revolve around an organisation rather than a character, it’s very easy to imagine ourselves as part of that organisation. In other words, these stories are so popular because they make us feel like we belong.

So, if you’re writing a sci-fi/fantasy story or comic, then it might be worth thinking about setting it within a group or organisation rather than focusing on a single character. Of course, this isn’t possible for literally every story – but it’s certainly a way of making your fans more interested.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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