Tuesday, December 4, 2012

How to Write a Page Turner


I'm always looking for ways to improve my writing. I subscribe to Children's Writer newsletter, which is great for craft tips and market research (click here if you'd like to subscribe...it's affordable, and awesome!)

In the October issue, Chris Eboch wrote a great article, "Make Your Novel a Page Turner." She wrote "A page-turner keeps the reader wondering with interesting questions arising from the story. If your readers never wonder, or if their questions are answered the second they are introduced, there is no suspense."

Here are some tips she offers for writing a page turner:

A Mystery

"When readers pick up a new book, they have certain questions. Who is this book about? What does the main character want, and why? How is he or she going to pursue that, and what is going to stop them?"

She reminds us that readers should never be left without a question, but that those questions should not build up indefinitely. She quotes Kate Sullivan, Editor of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, who says:

"Reading is all about wanting to know what's going to happen next. It's all about balance, and thinking about these questions as individual plot threads. Too many and your reader won't have anything solid enough to follow into the next scene. Too few and the reader may lose interest. But just a few that the reader can braid together are like a guide rope: Imagine the reader holding on to it as they follow it into the next scene. It's very helpful for one question to lead to another."

Pull the Reader Along

Eboch quotes Kendra Levin, Editor at Viking.

"If you're revising a draft and trying to make it more suspenseful or beef up these questions, ask yourself what information you're sharing with readers that could perhaps be held back or reserved for a later chapter. How can you pull back from what you're revealing? How can you turn an unknown into a mystery?"

Scene by Scene

Eboch suggests focusing on scenes in order to find the right number and type of questions we ask and answer in our fiction.

"Start each scene with a clear character goal. This goal relates to the main problem or story goal, but is a smaller, scene-specific goal that is focused on a next step. With the goal comes a question: Will this character succeed? If the answer is yes, the character moves on to the next step, reaching for that ultimate story goal. If the answer is no, the character has to try again or try something else."

I plot using index cards. After reading Eboch's article, I made a master card that sits on top of all the others, which asks, Character goal? Will she succeed? Purpose of scene? Next step? New questions? This reminds me to address these issues in each scene.

For an excellent post about writing scenes, see Jody Hedlund's A Method Through the Madness: 5 Tips for Writing Scenes.

Asking and answering questions goes a long way toward improving the pacing of our fiction, and it's something I'm constantly working on. Eboch's article was interesting, and full of practical tips. 

For more of Chris' tips, visit her blog here, or the "for writers" section of her website here.

Do you have a good ask/answer cycle in your fiction? Do you have a well-established skill for pacing? If so, please share your secrets!

All content used with permission

photo credit

38 comments:

  1. These are all great tips. I'm a big fan of inserting mystery and questions and I think I did a pretty good job of it with my last project. We'll see if I can repeat the performance with my next!

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    1. Marcy, it sounds as if you're ahead of the game! I'm sure if you did it well in one ms, you'll do it well in your next. Good luck to you!

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  2. The scene is definitely where it's at. All excellent things you point out to keep in mind as you write each scene.

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    1. Scenes, scenes, scenes. I've learned how important each one is! Like building blocks :)

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  3. Like a braided rope - that makes sense. I'm working on not revealing things quite as fast to build up suspense.

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    1. Braided rope--that image was great for me, as well. And I'm also working on not revealing things too soon.

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  4. Great tips! There's always a bit of tug 'O war when deciding what a reader needs to know, versus what they'd just 'like' to know. The reader pleaser in me wants to give them everything I know they'll like, but that sometimes hurts the story as a whole.

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    1. EJ, I totally agree. Like, when I'm reading a great book, I want to know everything. But the author is smart to keep me in the dark on some things!

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  5. Wonderful analysis, Julie. I think story questions was a huge reason as to why Harry Potter was such a success. Readers needed to find out exactly what happened in Godric's Hollow and whose side Snape was really on. (Does that entice you to read the series? :-)

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    1. Susan, want to know something funny? The author of this article used HP as an example of always asking and answering questions at a great pace. Of course I couldn't relate to that because I STILL haven't read them :/

      Maybe some day!

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  6. Oh my gosh... it's *such* a balance, isn't it??? Gosh, Julie, I think I might be getting addicted to your posts ;-)

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    1. Morgan, you're so sweet! It's a good addiction :) *hugs*

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  7. Hi Julie.
    Great post and great suggestions. Suspense and surprise are essential in my genre, mystery and that is really what separates the good from the great mystery writers, IMHO.
    Mike Martin, author of The Walker on the Cape, a Sgt. Windflower mystery.

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    1. Mike, so true! And the authors who do it well?? Dang, I love reading books like that.

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  8. This is GOLD, Jerry, GOLD. I'm heading over to the newsletter.

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    1. Leslie, now I'm obsessed...what movie is that from? Jerry McGuire? Or is it a Seinfeld reference I've forgotten? HELP ME!!!!

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  9. I didn't know about the Children's Writers newsletter. I just signed up for my free issue to check it out. :) Thanks for the tips, Julie!

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    1. Laura, I know you write for kids, and I tell ya, I love this newsletter. It's awesome for market research. I learn about all kinds of great things. I hope you like it!

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    1. Yay! Traci, I really hope you like the newsletter. I think it's totally worth it.

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  11. I love Children's Writer and have subscribed to it for years. I also like Chris Eboch's tips. She has a newsletter via Good Reads with new articles on writing each week.

    Julie I like your idea of the index card questions for each scene. That's something I'm going to try. Thanks for the tip.

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    1. Oooh, Elizabeth, thanks so much for letting us know about Chris' newsletter. She just left a comment telling us how to subscribe to her newsletter through her blog. Thanks for the great tip!

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  12. These are great Julie! Thanks for sharing them :) Hope all is well with you!

    Ange

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    1. Angela, thanks so much for stopping by :)

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  13. These are exactly what we have to keep in mind as writers. And finding that balance between suspense and information is darned challenging!

    I'm copying these, printing them out and posting them next to my computer. I need all the help I can get. Thanks

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    1. You and me both, Lee! I have to remind myself all the time. And if it's not written in front of me, forget about it!

      Squirrel!

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  14. Love it. I have my cards all set to go. Now if only I can wheedle out some time to do it...

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    1. Gee, Lisa, I don't know why you can't find the time! Your sweet baby is worthy putting a story on hold :)

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  15. I like these!! The visual of a plot threads braiding together is perfect! I don't plot in advance (much) but I do like to know what each scene is trying to accomplish before I write :)

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    1. Jemi, I love the braid visual as well. And I agree...knowing what the scene should accomplish is something I need to keep remembering!

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  16. Thanks for having me, Julie. (This wasn't really a guest post, but it sort of feels that way, except I didn't have to write anything new!)

    Elizabeth mentioned my "newsletter" available through Goodreads – that's actually my blog, which you can also get by subscribing to the blog if you use a blog reader, or just stopping by. I've also put many of my best plotting tips into my book Advanced Plotting, available in print or e-book.

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    1. Chris, thank you soooo much for the permission to quote from that great article. It was so helpful!

      And thanks for the tips about your blog posts and your book, Advanced Plotting. If the book is anything like your article, I'll have to order a copy!

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  17. Pacing isn't something I can get right first go. It's something I need to slowly tweak until it's right, which in my mind takes forever! ;)
    Great tips, Julie.

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    1. Oh my gosh, Lynda, you and me both! Even after a few drafts my critique partners have to help me out. And as for taking forever? You're not alone with that, either. Gosh, I'm slow :/

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  18. These are great, especially now that I'm in the middle of revisions. I jotted down your notecard questions. I'm really trying to beef up the mystery in my story and make it more suspenseful, so this really helps!

    BTW thanks so much for your warm wishes on my blog! :)

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  19. This is one of those great posts I print off & file away, or, more likely, keeping my desk to remind myself. Awesome, awesome, awesome!! Thank you for sharing!

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