HOW TO WRITE A PAGE TURNER
Mary Freeman Boardman
There’s one thing we, as writers, want our readers to do on a continuing basis and that’s to keep turning the pages. We want our books to be the ones keeping our fans up all night reading. So let’s take a look at some of the things you can do to achieve that goal.
First thing is open with a hook. In today’s impatient world, people want everything on demand. They want it instantly. So that first sentence you write needs to be a compelling hook. Not only that first sentence but that first paragraph and even the first page. That first sentence will determine whether or not your reader keeps reading. Sure, you could have a mediocre opening and the reader might continue for a few sentences or, if you’re lucky, might even continue reading for a few pages. But the question is do you want them to just “read on” or do you want to “compel” them to read on. Maybe you’re not sure how to write a hook. Get five or ten of your favorite authors’ books and take a look at those openings. Compare your own WIP. Is your opening so compelling your reader just has to keep reading?
Conceive a main character who is thrown into your plot in such a way that he/she has to respond emotionally. Do not give them a choice as to whether or not to get involved in whatever danger you’ve created. He/She has to be emotionally driven to act and react to the scene before them. It’s the emotion that keeps readers reading.
You need a strong point of view (POV). As you write a character, you have to BE that character. See, feel, hear, etc. what the character is seeing, feeling, hearing, etc. and express it in actions, thoughts and dialogue. If you show the physical as well as the emotional reaction to the scene, it breathes life into your characters and that’s what keeps your readers caring about your characters, which keeps them turning pages.
Do NOT put back story in the beginning of any book. Don’t give it away too soon. Keep your readers in suspense. Not fully understanding a character keeps your reader wondering why, what made them perform a particular action that’s out of character maybe. Back story does NOT belong in the beginning of any book. Dribble it into the middle section where it belongs.
End your chapters on a HOOK! End the chapter in the middle of a scene. Remember the old westerns where the good guy was riding hell bent on his white horse and comes to a cliff and horse and rider go right on over the cliff? That’s the point they cut to a commercial. They know you’re coming back to see if one or both survived. That’s a hook!
Never, never, never have a character fall asleep at the end of a chapter! The instant your character falls asleep, your reader lays the book down, falls asleep and may never pick it up again. If you find yourself in that situation, simply have something startle him/her awake. Of course, I might have a dead body fall out of the closet. Don’t know about you but I’d definitely wake up. LOL!
Write your sentences so the word with the most punch is at the end. For instance, “If I tell JoElla about Jim, she would guess my secret.” Secret is the word with the most punch. I could write the sentence in several different ways but it would not carry the same punch for the reader. The reader is thinking “Secret, what secret?”
Write dialogue which defines your character, advances the plot or uncovers clues. Make it count.
Descriptions should be vivid. Your word choice here is essential. Your descriptions should also reflect the overall mood of the story. Choose darker words for mysteries and funny words for humor, etc.
Don’t be elusive. Be specific. For instance, “Picking up the gun, Bill aimed it at her heart” is scarier than “The threat came from everywhere.”
Be sure you have enough plot and conflict to carry the story all the way to the end. If plotting is hard for you, try giving all your characters a secret. List the secrets in order of importance. Then, reveal the secrets one at a time starting with the least important one first and ending with the biggest one.
Figure out your plot points and write toward those.
Be sure you have strong story conflict. Your main characters need to have goals which are in opposition to each other.
Use sexual tension. Remember Linda Howard’s “Twelve Steps to Intimacy” and use as many as you can.
In your introspection, insert one feeling and one action in every other paragraph.
Build tension from the beginning. Make it worse by Chapter 6, and even worse yet by Chapter 9 and by Chapter 12 it’s the worst it can get – maybe.
Keep your main characters wondering about the motivations of the other characters. They should wonder about their own motivation, too, which will help in showing them grow and change during the course of the story.
Your characters should get one step closer to their goal only to take two steps backward.
The black moment should arise from your overall story conflict. Make the situation look impossible. This is where all hope is lost. The worst thing that can happen, happens.
Next should be your “come to realize” growth of your characters. You should have scenes in your story which bring your characters to this point. This is the scene where they realize their core belief is off kilter. They realize they must change one way or another.
Your resolution should be in keeping with the genre you’re writing in. For a true romance, it needs a happy ever after ending. If you’re writing chix lit, it could be a happy for now ending. Whodunits should let us know whodunit, and so on. No matter the genre, the reader wants a satisfying ending with all the loose threads tied up. If it’s a series, you want this story to hook your reader into buying your next book, too.
Now go squirrel away in your writing area, hook those readers and keep them up all night!