Ask a Book Editor: 4 Surefire Ways to Keep Readers Turning the Pages
“Just one more chapter! I promise. Maybe.”
As readers, there’s no better feeling than when we can’t put down a book. I mean, who needs sleep?
But how do you keep readers invested in your work? How do you get them to tune out everything else and gladly get lost in your words?
Here’s a shortlist of vital ways to hold readers’ interest. And they don’t apply to thrillers only, as every work should be thrilling in its own way. Otherwise, the placed bookmark will simply note where the reader moved on.
Let your main character interact with others—and don’t wait too long.
Stories buzz from the energy of interaction. Whether your work is literary or commercial, it offers the loose freedom and engaging pace of dialogue.
Say no to static characters.
Character development is key. By that I mean action and circumstances (aka, plot) must affect and change your characters. An evolving character is an interesting character. Take the reader on an unpredictable journey and they’ll stick with you.
Similar to static characters, a stagnant plot where nothing happens--or takes a lonnnnng time for something game-changing to occur—brings no progression. A story doesn’t need to race along, yet there must be a steady pace and sense that it’s going somewhere intriguing. Those only wishing to be enchanted with wordplay, choose poetry.
Use chapter closers to your advantage.
Don’t make it easy for readers to pause. You don’t necessarily need a steady stream of cliffhangers, but try not to reach a tidy and resolute finish line at every chapter. Instead, if you close a chapter with an internal reflection, a question, or a hint of what’s to come (or might), it will equally stay front of mind with the reader. Now if you are crafting a thriller or mystery with cliffhangers, be sure they pay off. I still remember reading a once popular children’s series when I was in elementary school. At the end of one chapter a girl saw her brother running toward her through a field of tall grass, she blinked, and then HE WAS GONE. Was it magic? A kidnapping? A bottomless pit? I anxiously flipped to the next chapter…only to learn he’d tripped, got up, and resumed his approach. Even at ten years old, I felt cheated (and clearly haven’t gotten over it ;) ).
**NOTE: Many of these rules apply to NONFICTION too. Topics should flow into the next. For most works, adding an illustrative story—with or without some dialogue—can’t hurt. And wisely utilize your chapter closers to keep readers hooked.