The page turner.
Oh yes, you know the one. It’s two in the morning and you have to get up at six to go to work. Your eyes are dry and tired. Your brain is half asleep, and you promise yourself…just one more page and I’ll put it down. One pages turns into ten. Ten turns into the rest of the book which leaves you with exactly one hour of sleep and a smile on your face.
What’s makes a book a page turner? I’ve read great stories that don’t have me pulling an all nighter, so what it is about those few that hot-wire themselves into my restless mind and demand to be read?
There are a lot of little magic ingredients required to lay the foundation, I think, like compelling characters and tension galore, but there’s one main one I keep coming back to: the questions that need answering.
Often I know I have a page turner within the first paragraph. The writer has raised a question in my mind that I just have to know the answer to. Before I get that answer, another question is raised, and another and so on, until I get to the climax and I go Ah, that’s why so and so got so upset about whatchamacallit. You get my drift, right?
There are lots of ways to raise questions in a reader’s mind. It can be as simple as a heated look between two characters that isn’t explained. An object that keeps appearing without an explanation of why it’s important. An errant thought that causes a character an extreme emotional reaction.
Here’s an example from the new YA novel opener I wrote recently called Sparrow:
The creak of floorboards shattered my dreams of beef jerky and peach pie. Mom’s smiling face disappeared from the sun-dappled clearing we were picnicking in and left me staring at the naked rafters of a strange, cold house. If the dick slinking around the lower floor hadn’t come to kill us I’d stick a shiv in his neck. I only got pie in my dreams.
I wrote this specifically hoping to raise questions in your mind. Why is this girl in a strange house? Who might be downstairs and why might they be coming to kill her? Why does she think about it with cold detachment? And why does she only get pie in her dreams?
I don’t plan to answer most of these until at least chapter 2, and at that point I’ll be raising other mysteries I hope will pull the reader along, making them flip those pages even when they have somewhere else they should be. At least, that’s my evil plan. *insert dastardly laugh here* 🙂
Another important trick I often employ is to end the chapter with a bang, during some tense moment that leaves the reader sliding to the front of her seat. I’ve made it sound simple, and essentially it is, but it often take a few tries to get just the right twist at the end of each chapter.
Master this tease and feed method, and you’ll have your readers well and thoroughly hooked.