© 2010 Virginia Smith
“I stayed up all night to finish your book. I couldn’t put it down!” That’s one of the highest compliments a novelist can receive, and I love hearing it. Not that my goal in life is to become a source of sleep deprivation, but writing a page-turner doesn’t happen by accident. It takes skill to produce a story compelling enough for readers to voluntarily sacrifice sleep in order to find out what happens next. We all like knowing we’ve succeeded in our craft.
A writer grabs readers’ attention by creating intriguing questions that simply must be answered. One technique is to withhold pieces of information from a character’s past. In his novel, Rooms, James Rubart introduces Micah Taylor, who receives news that a stranger has built a beach house for him on the Oregon coast. Within a few sentences we discover that Micah has avoided the town where the house is located since childhood, when he vowed never to return. Our curiosity is piqued. What happened there, and why does a stranger want him to return so badly?
Once we hook readers by introducing intriguing questions, we continue the technique in order to keep them engaged. As one question is answered, others are posed. In Rooms, we learn of the tragic death of Micah’s mother in the town where his new house is located. By the time that is revealed, Micah has discovered that rooms in the house mysteriously appear and disappear, each with a new revelation from his past. Some of the locals seem to know what’s going on, but how? And why won’t they tell Micah? We’re compelled to keep reading to find out.
Another way to keep the pages turning is to pay special attention to chapter endings. A reader lying in bed late at night is looking for a good place to stop. Don’t provide one. In Crimson Eve, by Brandilyn Collins, a lady realtor is showing a house to a potential client. The scene presents plenty of intriguing questions, but the real kicker comes at the end of the chapter. The client pulls out a gun, aims it at her heart, and announces, “I’m a hit man.” How can we stop there? We must turn the page and read on.
Readers love stories that keep them up at night. Novelists who employ these page-turning techniques will soon develop a following of satisfied—and sleepy—fans.
Virginia Smith is the author of more than a dozen Christian novels and over fifty articles and short stories. An avid reader with eclectic tastes in fiction, Ginny writes in a variety of styles, from lighthearted relationship stories to breath-snatching suspense. Learn more about Ginny and her books at www.VirginiaSmith.org and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ginny.p.smith.