How to Write a Page-Turner

Enjoying a good book
A young woman reading a page-turner

Hey fiction writers, what do you want most? Huge sales and lots of money, or do you want a reputation as a writer extraordinaire? You say both? Then you need to supercharge your storytelling and make your book a page-turner.

We all know people who tell the best stories. They are the ones the family turns to on special occasions because they will tell the story right. It won’t drag. They’ll hit all the high points, skip the boring details, and make everyone feel like they were there.

These storytellers create excitement by telling the story at a brisk pace, using plain, stripped-down dialogue, and cutting straight to the action.

A fiction writer should do the same thing. Most any writer can tell a decent story. The plot is probably as good as any plot, but with all of the writers out there today, a good plot is not enough to hold the readers’ interest.

I’ll never forget the first season of the television show, Scandal. I watched each episode while on the phone with my sister, and while online in the Scandal Watch Party group. We were shrieking, reacting, and rapidly firing off online comments and emojis during each commercial break. We kept our blood pressure pills on the table next to us.

If your book can do the same thing to your readers, then that’s a book destined for success. A page-turner is a book I’ll talk about to anyone who’ll listen. It is the subject of discussion groups and it should make a book club eager to talk about the hero or villain.

What makes your book a page-turner? 

The page-turner isn’t just about the story; it’s about how you tell the story. Do you pull me in and make me love your fictional world? Do I want to lose myself there? The best way to answer that question is were you in “la-la land” as you were writing, or did you keep reminding yourself, “its almost over.”

A page-turner should make the reader stay up all night, weaving in, out, and through tightly woven plots. Wondering who and what—about and between characters—and never knowing what to expect.

Build depth and scope in the characters

The characters in page-turners are conflicted, complex characters, and they exhibit depth and scope. I create backgrounds for my characters and I know them through and through.

The reader may never know a character’s history or what motivates them, but the author should. That knowledge will help you develop them with the kind of complexity the reader can feel.

Go all out with the plot

Keep plot twists and surprises coming and don’t slack off. Don’t give your readers any breathing room. Put these multi-dimensional characters in tense situations and when the reader thinks he knows how their story will play out, twist the plot again! Give your protagonist a conflict in every chapter. Make the reader bite her nails or clutch the sheets as your protagonist figures out what to do.

Cut your novel to the bone. 

Go through your book and remove scenes that readers might want to skip. You know the ones that slow down the action. You don’t even want to read them yourself. There were so many good chapters that I’d toiled over while writing The Neon Houses. They were rife with humor and witty repartee, but they didn’t further the action. They slowed the story down, so I removed them. Then, I asked my beta readers to point out any slow scenes that I’d missed and they did.

A chapter that I l-o-v-e-d had to go. I could’ve chosen to keep it, but when everybody says the same thing, I listen. If you’re writing a mystery or a thriller, the readers want only the parts that are going to lead them to the killer.

End chapters with a cliffhanger 

I’ve stayed up all night reading a good book. Why? There was no good place to stop. Each chapter drew me right into the next chapter. That’s talent. I’m not that good yet, but that is my aim. I want to write a page-turner!

Republished this on April 24, 2017

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Educator, Author, Blogger, and supporter of Independent Writers. One mystery novel, The Neon Houses, Find me on Twitter @boom_lyn.

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