On the topic of keeping a reader engaged:
Dialog is a great way to balance out a scene of description and action. Dialog allows conflict, information, reveal of character, and so on and so on.
My main character spends two chapters (Ch 2 and 4) alone in the wilderness. (Chapter 3 is in another point of view.) Feedback I get is that chapters 2/4 are well written, all the parts are there, I've done everything 'right' but it's tough for readers to feel connected to the character.
In these chapters, my character has internal thoughts (written as indirect past tense), a couple flashbacks that are dialog, a couple exclamations/talking out loud, and conflict between himself and the environment. In other words, I've tried to compensate for the lack of dialog with other devices. (Perhaps I ended up with something disjointed as a result. Not sure.)
I'm wondering if there's something about a lack of a second character for the MC to bounce off of that is giving readers a hard time being in the scene. What do you think?
I don't plan to add a second character, but if you have any insight into this I will take it on board and let it stew with the other fixes I'm playing around with. The advice I've gotten is to add his thoughts and emotions, but they are already there as indirect past tense.
Incidentally, one of my constraints (and this will sound like a non-sequitur but I don't think it is) is that I don't allow normal swear words in this world. Having my character yell "F***!" during a crisis might work wonders (and the lack of that expletive might be what's missing for the reader) but I'm hoping to avoid standard swear words. It's too early in the book for the in-world words to carry the same weight.
Edit: More feedback from readers in real life has me shortening some of the segments in these chapters, reducing some of the extraneous 'disjointed' bits, and (as always) keeping the character's motivations clear. Two disjointed bits were linked which adds a metaphysical vibe in that paragraph which is cool.
It's getting there.
Also, a few occasional telling words appear to be helpful. (reader: "Does he hate being there?" me: "No, he loves being alone. I showed that." "Oh, yes you did. But I hate hiking." "OK. Look at this version where I add in his feeling as a tell." "Oh! Yes, I get it now.")