Friday, May 20, 2016

What keeps a reader turning the page?

When a story starts with tension and keeps it up until the end of each chapter the reader will want to know more. Giving them a breather is a good idea, resolving some of the conflicts, but kicking it up a notch with a new issue or twist. I've lost sleep over chapter endings that made me want to know what happens next. 

Dialog moves a story quickly. The speaker must be clearly identified (or known by the dialect) so the reader doesn't get lost. People often speak in fragmented sentences and finish another persons sentences if they know them well. Exposition mixed in will help put the reader in the same room, just not too much description - or the reader may wander off. 

Readers now expect to start in the middle of the action. No more back story building or setting the scene like Hawthorne. The reader will get to know who is there and where they are as the story progresses, but you have to grab them in that first paragraph!

If at all possible, avoid data dumps or lectures. Fiction readers want to be there and be involved. They don't want you to tell them all the why's and wherefores in one page, but rather to tempt them with tastes and nibbles immersed in the story. Reveal important information, just not all at once. Be sneaky! Be concise. Leave them tiny snacks to keep them on the path of the story. 

Make your characters interesting, three-dimensional, flawed, and believable. The reader wants to care about them, understand them, cheer for them and hate them. Even the antagonist needs at least one redeemable quality. The main character in my novel FEISTY FAMILY VALUES is a royal be-itch. But underneath she has a heart. Few readers like her, but most come to understand her. She's someone a reader can relate to. 

Surprises and Emotions are critical. Give the reader twists they don't expect. Make them cry or laugh right along with the characters. Readers find pieces of their own lives in stories, commiseration for shared trials, justification, validation, hope and even comfort. The reader wants to be part of the story.

Use all five senses. Make the reader smell it, hear it, feel it, touch it - whatever "it" may be. If you give them a creaky old house they will want to smell the mustiness, sneeze the dusty, get creeped out by the echoes and touch the smooth banisters worn by thousands of fingers.

Good stories with strong characters, vivid scenery and intense emotions keep me turning the page. How about you?

Bonnie (BD) Tharp, award-winning author of women's fiction: FEISTY FAMILY VALUES and PATCHWORK FAMILY.  Also author of Kindle ebook short stories: THE CROSSROADS & EARL DIVINE.

I have a new Young Adult manuscript ready for an agent or publisher, whichever comes first. Wish me luck!

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Jacqueline Seewald said...


The information you're sharing with readers and fellow writers is excellent! This is such a helpful blog. A lot of us forget that chapters need to end on a cliff hanger of some kind so that readers will want to turn the page and start the next chapter.

Bonnie Tharp said...

Hi Jacqui. Thanks for the comment, it is greatly appreciated.

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