Friday, November 5, 2010

Crafting the Page-Turner by Pamela Samuels Young

Don’t you just love reading a page-turner? As a mystery writer, I constantly strive to write books that readers have a hard time putting down. After much trial and error, I learned to write fast-paced novels by dissecting well-written, engaging books and studying how the author structured the story.
You, too, can write a page turner. Here are five tips I use that will help you keep readers turning the pages.

1. Create Characters the Reader Cares About.

To hook your readers, give them characters they can root for as well as root against. If your protagonist is an underdog with the odds against her, make sure there’s a reason for the reader to be in her corner. The same goes for your villain.. If he’s a real scoundrel, readers will want him to fail. So make sure that you build your plot so readers aren’t disappointed in the end. Your characters must be intriguing as well as believable enough that readers will relate to them and care what happens to them.


2. Conflict is Crucial!

It’s essential that you have conflict in every chapter of your novel. Conflict engages the reader and entices them to keep reading. Conflict doesn’t mean people are arguing or yelling at each other. For me, it means the presence of one force working against another. There’s a struggle or collision of interests. For example, the prosecutor wants the defendant to go to jail, but the defense attorney is determined to see that his client goes free. Every chapter must have conflict. No one wants to read a book that meanders along with a bunch of happy people.

Once you’ve set up your conflict, don’t tell it all! String the reader along. Explain that Misty has a secret in Chapter 1, but hold off on revealing the secret until later in the book. If you spill the beans too soon, you must incorporate something else to keep the suspense going. If you string the reader along to a big buildup, make sure you reward them with a bombshell that is believable and worth the wait.

3. Understand the Impact of Narration vs. Dialogue.

Generally speaking, dialogue and action (e.g., people saying or doing something) will speed up

the pacing of your novel, while extensive narration and description will slow it down. Literary fiction, which is character-driver and lauded for its poetic prose, is typically heavy on narration and description. Commercial fiction, which is plot driven, often includes more action and dialogue. Compare, for example, a James Patterson mystery like Run for Your Life (commercial fiction) versus a novel like the Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter (literary fiction). The latter is heavy on the narrative, the former has far more action and dialogue. If you feel your story is dragging, analyze the amount of narration versus dialogue and action and make the appropriate changes.

4. Hook Your Readers and Don’t Let Go.

Many readers who aren’t already familiar with an author will make a decision to buy a book after reading just the first few pages. Hence, your opening scene is your chance to grab their attention. But don’t stop there. Make sure you grab them throughout the book. You can accomplish this through conflict and suspense and by presenting engaging characters. You must end your chapters with a hook. That will make it hard for the reader to put down the book because he’s dying to know what’s going to happen next. If your protagonist narrowly escapes a tough situation, present him with another crisis. Keep your readers on the edge of their seats wondering, What’s going to happen next?

5. Record Your Book On Tape.

he last step in my writing process is to read my entire manuscript into a tape recorder and listen to it with pen in hand, ready to make any necessary changes. I often hear things that I don’t see when I’m simply reading the manuscript. I’ve discovered things like word repetitions that I missed, a lag in the pacing, and inconsistencies in my story line. After several hours of listening to my story, I’ve sometimes discovered that it takes too long to get to a pivotal events. So I go back to the drawing board.

If you’ve never listened to a book on tape, try doing so before you listen to your own book. Ask yourself if the story grips you and if not, figure out why. By the same token, if the book doesn’t grab you, analyze what the writer could have done differently to engage you. If you only follow one piece of advice from this article, please follow this tip! You will be amazed at how much you will be able to sharpen your manuscript as a result of this simple exercise.


About Pamela ~ Corporate attorney Pamela Samuels Young has always abided by the philosophy that you create the change you want to see. Fed up with never seeing women or people of color depicted as savvy, hot shot attorneys in the legal thrillers she read, Pamela decided to create her own characters. Despite the demands of a busy legal career, Pamela accomplished her ambitious goal by rising at four in the morning to write before work, dedicating her weekends to writing and even spending her vacation time glued to her laptop for ten or more hours a day. The Essence magazine bestselling author now has four fast-paced legal thrillers to show for her efforts.


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