What keeps readers turning pages, and why do you care? The first answer is complicated, the second simple. Without enthusiastic momentum, your reader—whether agent, publisher, or audience—is gone.
Happily, there’s more than one way to keep those fingers moving, because each reader turns pages for slightly different reasons. Here are some possibilities:
This asset occurs frequently, because many readers and writers associate the novel with impassioned curiosity about what’s next. The supremacy of plot is somewhat genre dependent. Still, whatever your style or subject, don’t skimp on this expectation. Every genre needs some sort of tension on every page.
Re-examine To Kill Mockingbird, and its rather antiquated style might dismay you. Why, then, do so many people list it as their most favorite ever? Few kids rival Scout’s gloriously naive sense of right and wrong. The same might be said of her extremely mature dad. Create characters one can’t forget, and readers will sigh when there are no more pages to turn.
What do the Da Vinci Code and the Harry Potter series share in common? A wide range of people respond to mystery, underdogs, resourcefulness, and archetypes. Of course it rarely makes sense to replace the scenario that calls to you with a more marketable one. But it makes terrific sense to add heft, originality, danger. Can you make the Concept bigger? More enticing?
Unless your characters experience them deeply, your readers won’t experience them at all. Yet belabor or “tell” about feelings, and readers still won’t respond. Emotions are concrete, dynamic responses to reality. Present them that way.
Who doesn’t love them? But if we know too much or little, those whispers can irritate more than intrigue. It never hurts to map out how and when you dispense your novel’s secrets.
Whether or not your novel is a comic one, exploit every opportunity for laughter, including the bleak irony of tragedy.
Some novelists write so beautifully that we want more and more and more. At least occasionally, join them.
~ Intellectual curiosity
Those interested in classical music, RNA, or history can’t wait to see what Richard Powers will teach them on the next page of The Gold Bug Variations. What’s your audience curious about?
Whether drama, originality, voice, insight, or point of view, there’s more than one way to keep readers losing sleep and missing calls because they can’t put your book down.
Tip: Know, internalize, and use your best tricks to keep the pages turning.