Wednesday, November 30, 2016

How to Write a Page-Turner

I just finished my new novel titled The Abused. I also received feedback from my focus group of early readers. Responses were all extremely positive with the common comment being “I couldn’t stop reading it.”

I get asked all of the time, “How do I write a page-turner?” My answer may sound simple, but it’s not easy to do. The main ingredient to writing a page-turner is to create constant intrigue. Your reader must be interested and intrigued enough to want to keep reading.

How do you create intrigue?

Tip #1: Show don’t tell. Last night I read a chapter from The Abused. “I love the way you built up the tension. How did you do it?” So let me give you the set up scene from the book…

On this outing, Frank was in his usual laid-back mood. Jonesy had gotten up early ready to jog. They were standing in front of the morning fire watching the gray tin coffee pot that sat on the grill begin to bubble up. Jonesy wore a green jogging suit, and Frank had on a woolen shirt with Levi’s. He stood with his hands in his pockets fighting off the morning chill.
“So, what’s the plan my man,” asked Frank.
“Do you always have to say that?”
“Christ Frank you sound like a moron.”
“Thanks!” chuckled Frank.
The insult never bothered Frank. He knew Jonesy was chiding him.
“I’m taking a run. How bout you?”
Frank laughed, “Um no.”
“Fuck Frank you’re going to fall over some day from laziness and too much cholesterol.”
Frank grabbed the iron skillet and held up the eggs, “Tell you what! You take your damn jog and by the time you get back breakfast will be ready. That is if I don’t die of a heart attack.”
“Eh, fuck you!” said Jonesy as he turned to jog off.
“See you later Lucy,” called Frank.
Jonesy held up his middle finger and flipped off Frank, who just laughed again. The morning rolled on, and Frank began to scramble eggs. He set the bacon on the grill. BBQ bacon tasted the best. Then he began making hash browns from the frozen packs where the potatoes were already squared off. He didn’t like frozen hash browns as much as the real thing but when camping and having limited storage space, he would settle for it.
He had just sat down for a sip of coffee when campers started gathering at the edge of the trailhead. A lot of tittering and talk was going on. Frank’s “Spidey sense” went up. He wondered what was going on. People seemed distressed. A woman walked past, and Frank stood up.
“What’s going on?”
The woman shook her head. “Some guy fell off the trail.”
Frank became alarmed. Fear simmered inside of him like the coffee beginning to brew. He wasn’t sure if he should go look or just blow it off. “No way,” he thought. Anxiety grew in him like multiplying bacteria. He slowly started to make his way toward the crowd. People were talking. He heard one man say, “Yeah, he’s like crushed.” Now Frank felt even more concerned. Crushed? That didn’t sound good at all.
Finally, riding on a wave of sheer panic, Frank got to the edge and could see down. As his eyes focused on the mangled body below, he knew … within a second he turned and vomited on the dirt. Jonesy was dead.
His best friend and companion of years – dead and mangled on a pile of earth and rocks next to the sea.

Notice what I highlighted. I’m “showing” what is going on and not just saying “Jonesy fell off a cliff.” The build up … suspecting something is amiss (see red highlight). The tension conveyed through metaphor. Fear is simmering. Anxiety growing … what is happening? Frank moves toward the answer. Panic is consuming him. Crushed! Someone is crushed! Frank gets his answer.

Now a new writer who doesn’t understand the build up and tension would go straight for it – Jonesy died. This approach would read like this:

People stirred and were talking. Frank got curious. He wondered what was going on. He walks toward the crowd and peers over the ledge – Jonesy’s body is at the bottom. He’s dead.

No tension and no intrigue and no curiosity piqued. The reader is served up the answer right away. Try and think of each and every scene you write much like life. You are rarely given answers. You go through experiences to get answers. Describe what is happening before the answer arrives. Put your curiosity in the readers’ minds. Show it like you would see it unfold on a movie screen. When I write I actually see my story unfolding in my mind’s eye. I use my words to walk the reader through the experience.

I provide literary coaching and editorial services. If you would like me to critique or provide analysis of your manuscript, contact me at or call 916-300-8012. I will gladly discuss your project needs and how to get your book out of your head and onto paper.

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