Writing A Page-Turner: Pt 1
Have I hooked you yet? If you’re looking for a “sure-fire” formula to follow, my suggestion would be to buy a book: Creating Tension (Speculative Fiction Writers); Conflict & Suspense (Elements of Fiction Writing); On Writing (Stephen King); or one of many others.
I’m big on passing along common sense rather than formulas (but get King’s book or read it if you haven’t yet – it’s awesome and unpretentious). I have read fiction and narrative nonfiction that makes me turn the page and others that compel me to turn the page – you want the later, but that means avoiding general or genre-based tricks.
Understanding the craft of writing is essential to developing a book that will keep your readers interested and engaged. But I’m not here to give you lesson in creative writing. I will, however, share a few tips with you.
Things to ask yourself when you’re editing:
Pacing – is there a balance of dialogue, exposition, summary, and action in each of your scenes?
Sentences – have you varied your sentence lengths and types to maintain flow and build rhythm?
Engagement – are your main characters dynamic enough to sustain interest throughout the entire book?
Crisis – do your characters find themselves in increasingly trying situations?
Intent – what is the goal of this scene/chapter?
Things to avoid (generally speaking):
The cliff-hanger – if you constantly leave your reader in a heightened state of “what’s going to happen next?” at the end of a chapter, you risk exhausting them emotionally. Use this technique sparingly and only when it make sense to ramp-up your pacing.
The question – if you get in the habit of having your characters ask a question of themselves or someone else at the end of each chapter this is not a “personal style” it is blogging in a book. Again, questioning is important and used in moderation can be an effective tool for sparking curiosity in your reader – but overdone it becomes repetitive and anticipatory… you don’t want your reader to know what you’re going to do next.
Tidy endings – if you have a habit of “wrapping your scenes up nicely” at the end of each chapter you are inviting your reader to use your book as a bathroom-breaker (each chapter becomes a mini-story to read). You don’t want to give your reader an excuse to put the book down but you don’t want to force them to turn the page either, they may grow to resent you.
Idea Interruptus (or The Cutoff) – similar to the cliff-hanger but not as “life-or-death,” if you constantly have your characters in the middle of figuring something out and then interrupt them just before they come to the “light-bulb”
moment you will risk frustrating your reader. Remember, we want them eager not angry.
These are just a few common errors that occur with over-use or repetition and are by no means the only ones to be wary of.
Check in next week for a closer look at Pacing and how to get it working for you instead of against you!