Secrets of a Page Turner

“I have to find out what happens; then I’ll stop.” While readers cherish stories that keep them hooked till the wee hours, writers hope to craft work worthy of such comments. So, what are the secrets to writing a page-turner?

Creating emotion is the first, according to author and guest speaker T.K. Thorne. During the March Pensters meeting, she illustrated the point by sharing what she called a “documentary” view of a cheetah and a gazelle. Asking the audience to visualize the hunt, how the cheetah crouches down then springs into action for the takedown, Thorne painted a picture that left the gazelle the undisputed sympathetic character.

Then, she took listeners to the cheetah’s den where a handful of cubs wait; skin stretched tight from malnutrition. Mama cheetah’s thoughts expand the view, showing how she alone is raising these cubs, how none of them have eaten in days, how she barely has the strength to go after this one last gazelle. If she fails, there will be no more chances. They will certainly starve.

Now, the tables have turned. Most readers will have some pull toward the cheetah’s side of the story. Even though she is the predator, they would be likely to cheer for her.

Another step to hooking readers is to develop the characters in the story. Thorne discussed how one of the detectives in her book Last Chance for Justice comes home from an investigation to find an unfamiliar car in his driveway. While initially on guard, he soon finds out his wife had tired of his stalling and simply went car shopping without him.

The scene isn’t necessary to recreating the investigation of the Birmingham, Alabama church bombings, but it allows her readers to connect with Ben as more than the historical figure he is. They are now able to share in the feelings of anxiety and concern that would strike anyone in his shoes, wondering what dangerous player might be waiting to harm his family. Readers are likely able to relate to a spouse grown tired of waiting on a task to be completed, who has taken it upon themselves to do alone. Ben has become a person, not merely a character in a tale.

Much has been written about the importance of conflict in a story. Whether internal or external, it is the catalyst for the entire story arc. Thorne added: “No matter what a character says or how they conduct themselves, the only way they truly reveal themselves is by the choices that they make under pressure.”

Thorne stated authors not to label their work as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but ask ‘does it work?’ If the answer is no, what would make it work, or make it work better? Ultimately, she advised listeners not to worry about any of these steps at first. “Just write. Write it down,” she commented. If something isn’t quite right, it can be fixed later.

Only two more Pensters meetings this season! Join us April 14th and May 12th from 10am – 12 noon.