Tuesday, 5 October 2010

How do you get page-turning quality?

It's what we all strive for, to keep the reader hooked.  Is it some mystic imponderable possessed by the chosen few?  Or can anyone learn to do it?  I don't know.  But I do know a few tricks you can learn and apply that will help.

Essentially, it's the art of grabbing your reader by the scruff of the neck and tugging them along with you.  Which is where the old adage comes in - show, don't tell.  Immerse your reader in the action by putting them inside a character's head and hold the viewpoint.

Use cliffhangers to end sections and chapters.  Introduce the next complication, throw in a surprise, but don't resolve it.  Then the reader wants to know what is going to happen and starts the next chapter.

Structure sentences for speed.  If you want to heighten suspense, drag everything out.  Longer sentences, more introspection, plenty of detail - ie slow down time.  If you want to upgrade tension and excitement, roll through faster.  Shorter sentences, more action, less detail - ie speed up time.

Keep description minimal - sketch it in, interspersed with dialogue and introspective stuff (or headspeak).  Keep dialogue fluent and natural (not necessarily realistic) and avoid "speeches".  Break up the text with dialogue and use shorter paragraphs.

Most of all, involve yourself in the story as you write.  Surprise yourself and you'll surprise your reader.

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