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:
"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!
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