Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How to Write a Page-Turner

This is a theory that every writer should know. It's not easy, and it's not necessarily something that every book should have, but I still think that every writer should know how to turn their book into a page-turner with this simple technique.

Let's start with a scene:

I stepped out of the Turbo-Lift and into the five-acre park that occupies the highest plateau of Flatiron City's South Tower. The moon shone overhead, but I didn't come here for night-times stroll. I dipped into the shadows behind tall maple tree, tucked in my long legs and crouched low to the ground. My canary told me something big would happen just after eleven tonight.

I glanced at my watch, saw that I only had five minutes to wait, and then looked around for suspicious characters. My canary usually gave me good tips on drug trade among the richest residents of my city, but this time he thought rare jewels were moving through town.

A park bench fifteen yards away creaked under the strain of a large man in a cheap suit. I held my breath, looking for second person involved int he deal. Suddenly, a twig cracked behind me, and then my head exploded and bright lights danced before my eyes.

That's it, that's all I'm giving you. Do you want more?

I know it's not perfect, but I hope it illustrates my point: people will stay up late reading your book if you end every chapter at its highest tension point. Make them turn the page to find out what happens next, build up the action. Make the characters engaging so that when they need to know what's going on, the reader needs to know. That way, when the reader doesn't find out at the end of chapter 7, they move on to chapter 8.

Make sure you satisfy the reader's curiosity, though. If you just string them along for several chapters without giving them some of the answers they're looking for, they'll get bored, fed up, or even mad (which is bad news for you), and then they'll toss your book, make a note not to buy anymore, and move on to an author that does fulfill their needs.


  1. I found that Suzanne Collins ended nearly every chapter in the Hunger Games like this, with a real cliffhanger that forced you to read on. She did it quite well but it can get a little annoying if it's over used.

    Great post though Giles!

  2. Great scene, very interesting. The only thing I'd add is to suggest shorter sentences here and there. But it was definitely exciting as-is!

  3. That is really important, to give your readers something to hang onto. Cliffhanger after cliffhanger without some crumbs to satisfy doesn't work.
    Great post, as usual!