How do you keep readers turning the page? When a story starts with tension and keeps the tension up at the end of each chapter, the reader wants to know what happens next. I've lost many hours sleep because something happened at the end of a chapter that leads into yet another issue or problem to be solved. But you've got to let the reader breathe. Resolve one issue before piling on another.
Readers now want to start right in the middle of the action. They get to know the character as they read how that character deals with the mess they are in. In the case of a murder mystery, death has to happen in the first couple of pages, so the protagonist can start the hunt for the murderer. Along the way they will discover the who and why. The reader gets pulled into the mystery and wants to figure out who done it.
Avoid data dumps. This sounds like something we authors should all know, but it's tempting to set the stage, fill in the back story, then proceed to what's happening now. Readers won't stick around long enough to get to the story if the build up is too long. We live in a fast paced society and we go from one thing to another. It's no wonder ADHD is so common, we are jamming as much as possible into an eighteen hour day and we seldom stop to consider where we're going. We just know we've got to get there and fast! Mark it off the "to do" list and go on to the next one. Readers want to be immersed in the story on the first page.
By making the main characters three-dimensional, flaws and all, we can give the reader someone to care about. Even the antagonist needs to have at least one redeemable quality, so he can be a character people will love to hate and maybe sympathize with - a little. If the reader doesn't care about your characters then they can put the book down and maybe not even finish it. The main character in FEISTY FAMILY VALUES is a conceited snob. BUT underneath she has a heart of mush melon. Few people like her, but many come to understand her. There's an itty bitty bitch in all of us.
Make the reader a part of the story. Use all five of the senses, not just sight and sound. If the reader can relate to the wonderful smell of bread baking they will want more. If the creaky old house your characters live in is real to the author, it will be real to the reader. They will want to visit it, to smell the mustiness and touch the smooth bannisters where hands have slid hundreds of times.
And don't forget humor. Readers have to laugh as well as cry.
Good stories with strong characters, vivid scenery and intense emotions keep me turning the pages. How about you?
lifetime resident of the Midwest, B.D. Tharp graduated Magna Cum Laude from
Wichita State University with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communications,
Women/Minority Studies and Fine Arts.
Her award winning women’s fiction novel, Feisty Family Values, is available on her website, Watermark Books, Amazon.com and
Barnesandnoble.com. Feisty Family Values was
chosen one of the 150 Kansas Best Books, a finalist for the USA News Best Books
of 2010, and winner of the J. Coffin Memorial Book Award for 2011.