How to Write a Page Turner

Have you ever stayed up hours past your bedtime to finish a book? Turned the pages so quickly you ended up with a nasty paper cut? Or called your mother at an unholy hour of the night to tell her that she must pick up a copy first thing in the morning? Has a book ever filled you with such anticipation? If so, why did that book make such a big impact on you? Quite possibly, it had to do with two things: engaging characters and a carefully constructed plot, both of which are crucial to the makings of a great novel. CREATE ENGAGING CHARACTERS Your characters must be intriguing and memorable… and worth caring about. After all, if a reader doesn’t care about what happens to Jane Protagonist, no matter how difficult things become for her or how much care you took to develop a winning plot, the reader will lose interest. In his book, “Characters and Viewpoint,” (Writer’s Digest Books, 1999), author Orson Scott Card explains that vivid and memorable characters aren’t born: they have to be made. And it’s your job to make them both vivid and memorable. If you don’t do it, who will? How much description, or the type you use, depends on your writing style and the genre for which you write, but you must paint a clear picture for your reader. This is crucial! CAREFULLY CONSTRUCT THE PLOT A carefully constructed plot is also important. Though the element of suspense is critical only to certain genres, namely mysteries and psychological thrillers, the element of suspense can deepen the overall impact of any work of fiction. The goal is to create tension from the very first page: to trap readers in the viscous web of suspense as early as possible and to keep them there to the very end. Nancy Kress, author of “Beginnings, Middles, and Ends” (Writer’s Digest, 1999) writes, “… you must hook a reader or editor in the first three paragraphs.” Think about it. There are millions of books available to readers these days, not to mention all the other forms of entertainment. There are also hundreds of thousands of aspiring writers vying for the attention of agents, editors, and readers. You don’t have much time to make an impression so make a good one as quickly as you can. Give your protagonist a deadline and force her to make difficult choices. Convince the reader there’s no solution; no way out. Always leave a question in the reader’s mind. This will give them a reason to continue on. By making life difficult for your protagonist, you’ll inspire anticipation, even dread, in your readers. But dread is good! Readers want to feel sad, angry, inspired, annoyed, excited. They want to be taken off guard. They paid for good entertainment; make sure you give it to them. By writing intriguing characters and crafting a solid plot, you’ll create a compulsive need to turn the page. They will skip meals, miss bedtimes, and (though not condoned) ignore spouses and friends until they reach the answers for which they’ve been searching. They’ll keep turning the pages until they reach the end. Conversely, draw readers in, but don’t let them down. Nothing’s worse than reaching the last pages of a book just to find that the ending is a letdown. Many books do that; don’t let yours mimic the worst! Make yours a page turner… from the first to the very last page.