So many nights I’ve sat down to read a chapter or two of a book before bed, only to find myself still unable to put the book down at 2am or later. One of my goals as a writer is to write a book like that someday: a book someone is so into that he or she just can’t stop turning pages.
I’m still learning different techniques to do this, but here are some of the things I’ve tried so far – things I’ve gleaned from the books I can’t put down, and things that have worked in some of my own novels.
1. Keep the readers asking questions. Leave the protagonist (and the reader) in the dark. Give them just enough of a glimpse of what’s going on so they don’t feel lost (or at least not too lost) so they keep reading to figure out what’s happening. Keep them reading for answers. Answer a question they’ve been dying to know the answer to for several chapters, only to have it result in more questions.
2. Unexpected twists. Have a storyline that seems comfortable and predictable, but when you get to that moment the reader has been expecting, something else happens instead. Shake up the norm. Come out of left field. Keep them guessing. Never do what they think you’re going to do. Except maybe once, near the end, after they get use to you not doing what they expect.
3. Write relatable, awesome characters. I think all writers have a character they love to write, or just love in general, who is probably who the reader will also love. Don’t ever give the reader enough of that character. Again, just tease them with the character now and then. Have them do something awesome or say something witty, and then disappear. The reader should keep reading because they look forward to the next scene involving their favorite character. It also helps if the readers can get invested in your protagonist. They’ll keep reading to find out what happens to them.
4. Constantly assault your characters with new conflicts. Just when one gets resolved, or is getting close to being resolved, throw them a monkey wrench. The reader will get to breathe a sigh of relief that something went right, but if you keep that pressure on, the reader has to keep reading to see how that new tension gets resolved.
5. Write a compelling story. Here at the Café we’ve argued whether plot driven or character driven stories are more important, and the general consensus was that you need both. Have awesome characters, but make their stories gripping, as well.
6. Most importantly: write well (or awesomely). Poor writing can rip a reader right out of a story. Over-writing can have the same effect. I try to make my words invisible when I write, so they don’t get in the way of the story. However, if the prose is well-written, sometimes readers will keep reading just because it rolls fluidly off the tongue and through the mind.
What it really all comes down to for me is just to write what I want to read. Chances are if I enjoy writing it, and I have fun reading back over it, it will be engrossing to my readers, as well.