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Where’s the B-roll? The Secret to Engaging Readers

What’s the secret to engaging readers? I recently edited the book proposal for a TV journalist and found myself writing, “Where’s the B-roll?”

lisa tener book writing coach jumping
Yay, B-roll!

I’m in awe of writers who have a gift with metaphor. So, on the rare occasion I come up with a clever metaphor, I milk it. Okay, milk may be trite, but b-roll…I’m proud of that one.

Just in case you’re not familiar with the TV phrase, B-roll refers to supplemental footage or images that enhance the primary footage. In an interview, the people talking are the A-roll and B-roll often cuts to action shots, whether video or still pictures.

For example, the host is introducing the guest and the video cuts to another video of the guest pruning apple trees on her organic farm. B-roll.

B-roll helps keep a viewer’s interest.

B-roll often shows action.

Here’s an example of an engaging B-roll, 25 seconds into this video, from an appearance on Hallmark’s New Morning, when I was promoting my first book.

B-roll at its best draws you in, doesn’t it?

Where’s Your B-Roll?

As a writer, you conjure images all the time. Except when you don’t.

I’m sure you’ve heard the adage, “Show; don’t tell” if you want to engage your readers.

B-roll is the showing. B-roll helps your reader step into the world of your book and experience it.

Imagine all your words as either you as a talking head–do this, do that, here are some bullet points, here are statistics–or action shots and images that bring the material to life: a story that includes action (think verbs that paint a picture, think scenes that come alive), an image (quirky or specific descriptions that take something from generic to interesting), something that elicits emotion (because it’s specific, not a generalization), an example that illustrates your point or an experience (give the reader something to do–a transformational exercise, a step to take).

Engaging Readers from the Start

engage readers with detail
Photo by Tabreez on Unsplash

One tip for your B-roll is to start your story at a specific point in time and space. Rather than, “We went to the nightclubs in Dubai every night,” how about starting with a specific night, a specific party, a specific club and specific actions that took place? Remember a long ago night that stands out. How late into the night? What song were you dancing to at that moment in time? Who did you dance with? Evoke the experience in your reader with the details you provide.

If you’re going to tell us about your depressed mother or angry father, don’t just tell us she was depressed. Show her crying or spending half the day in bed. Show dad throwing a plate of spaghetti at the wall one night at dinner.

It’s the B-roll that draws your readers in, evokes emotion and makes your readers invested in what you have to say.

So, what’s your B-roll? Share a B-roll line or paragraph as a comment below if you want! Or share your own insights into great B-roll.

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Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

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