One of the cornerstones of my work in marketing has long been the Jobs Theory.

It provides a framework for customer needs (and for categorising, defining, capturing and organising the inputs that are required to make innovation predictable), but I’m gonna skip the jargon as much as possible.

I’ve used Jobs Theory as a means to better understand both the customer’s specific goal (“job”) and the thought processes that would lead that customer to buy (“hire”) a specific product to complete that job.

In marketing, we use jobs-to-be-done to discover what the users of a product are really trying to accomplish when they buy a specific product.

But why am I talking about this in the context of writing books?

Because a reader is a customer, and the job-to-be-done is to escape daily life for a bit.

And books are what they hire to accomplish the goal of escapism.

That’s obviously the conventional definition of jobs-to-be-done when it comes to books.

But I want to take this one step further, and apply it to story crafting, not just the marketing of the finished book.

I realised that as much as there are jobs-to-be-done in product development and marketing, there is also a job-to-be-done when it comes to reading books.

Mainly it boils down to this: if you don’t give your reader a job in your story, they’re not going to read it.

A while back I read a dumpster fire of an ARC.

Somehow the author had managed to info-dump all over the world, but — interestingly enough — not provide sufficient information about the actions of the characters and events taking place.

Yeah, it was confusing.

You were provided with oodles of information about some detail that was completely irrelevant to the story at large (like how the carved frame of a mirror looked, felt to the touch, and changed colour in different lighting), but when it came to a knife fight, you were left scratching your head as to how people can bend that way.

There was so much information that I realised the characters in the book didn’t need me (the reader) for anything.

Not in the least because when the MC needed to accomplish a task, even if she had no prior experience, the very fabric of the world would bend and spit out a solution for her. Like when she needed to dress a serious wound and had (conveniently) spent her evenings reading spare medical books, despite zero interest or need in the topic prior to that moment.

She was spoiled and self-centred. And they weren’t even framed as character flaws.

There were no negative narrative consequences for her being a spoiled brat (who could learn anything like Neo in the Construct) yet needed others to do everything for her.

There was no tension between the characters, because all the auxiliary characters seemed to exist only to enable the MC in her selfish ways.

(The fact that the sidekick was actually the unintended protagonist, but never got a chance to shine on the page because he wasn’t the MC, is a whole other discussion.)

Since the world bent to the MC’s every whim, I felt like a third wheel.

I had no purpose there.

Reading the story didn’t reveal anything other than more trivial events and big, steaming piles of info-dumps.

There was no mystery for me to solve, no tension for me to sit on the edge of my seat for.

I genuinely felt like those characters would simply go on with their bland lives, going through the motions of meaningless events, regardless of whether I continued reading or not.

And that’s the exact opposite of what you want.

You want your readers to feel like they’re one of the crew, even if they’re invisible and in everyone’s head all at the same time.

You want to make sure you leave that space for your reader, like setting an extra place at the dinner table for a ghost or setting out an offering of porridge for the nisse that helps out in the stable (one of our quirky Scandinavian traditions).

You know they’re not going to sit down and eat a meal or have a conversation, but you make space for them regardless.

Because if you don’t make space for them, they don’t come. And your readers won’t read, if you don’t make space for them in your story.

Your goal is to trigger curiosity.

Because if you can make your reader curious you’ve aroused their desire for acquiring knowledge — and that, folks, is inherently rewarding and pleasurable.

By extension, reading your story will be rewarding and pleasurable.

A sure way to keep those pages turning.

You don’t have to be writing a murder mystery to trigger reader curiosity. In fact, don’t limit yourself to the most obvious tools for intrigue.

Make your reader curious about your characters, about the events, about what’s going to happen next.

Omit things. Leave them in the subtext.

That way, you’re automatically giving your reader a job, assigning them the task of having to figure things out in order to keep up with the plot.

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