How to Motivate Readers to Keep Turning Pages | Writing Tips
As a writer who tackles stories that often fall into the thriller category, creating tension is one of my biggest challenges and something that I have to nail in order to be successful at what I do. My ultimate goal is to motivate my readers to keep turning pages, their hearts and pulses pounding until they’ve reached the end—out of breath and thoroughly entertained. But figuring out how to do that is not easy. It takes practice and a mastery of the following:
Constantly Increasing Stakes
If nothing challenging occurs to the characters in a story, the plot starts to stagnate and the characters are left to languish with no motivation to move out of their comfort zone and towards some kind of transformation. There should be an obstacle/challenge/hardship that the main character faces from the first chapter on with bigger and harder obstacles to follow in subsequent chapters so that everything begins to build, one on top of the other. In my new book, ASTRAY, the main character, Lyla, is faced with the prospect of seeing the leader of her Community again, a man she thought she had killed, but who miraculously survived. Part of her wants to see him, just to figure out whether or not she can handle it, and part of her worries that he really is larger than life, somehow more miracle than man. Her struggle or obstacle in this first chapter is psychological and builds on events that happened in the previous book, GATED, giving the sense that she remains unsettled, unmoored and out of her comfort zone even though there was a resolution of sorts between the two books.
Shorter Periods of Down Time
Shorter and shorter periods of down time and either an implied or real countdown clock ticking its way to zero. As the stakes get higher and higher, the down time between incidents where the stakes are raised should get shorter and shorter, which ups the readers’ anxiety and their need to make sure that the main character comes out okay in the end. A good example of this is one of my all-time favorite movies: Aliens (its predecessor, Alien, is completely awesome too—just lacking Corporal Hicks who I basically crushed on for most of my growing up years). Aliens begins as Ripley wakes up from her last encounter with the acid spewing alien from the first movie to find out that the planet it and all its brothers and sisters were on is now inhabited by a colony of people…that can’t be contacted anymore. A group of marines is dispatched to investigate and of course they convince Ripley to go along as an advisor. With every turn of the plot she gets closer and closer to an epic confrontation with what she fears the most: the aliens. And there is literally a ticking clock while she does this when it turns out that the colony will blow up in a matter of days.
Unexpected Plot Twists
Little surprises that make the reader gasp out loud or upend their predictions for where they thought the story was headed are incredibly effective for upping tension. In ASTRAY, one of those surprises comes early on in Chapter Two when she puts on a disguise and goes to see Pioneer. There is an unexpected moment of confrontation between the two characters that immediately undermines what little peace of mind Lyla has acquired and forces her to question herself and her actions.
Use More Than One Kind of Tension
Familiarity with the various forms of tension and utilizing more than one at a time. I’ve mostly focused on the kind of tension found in thrillers, but there are other kinds: romantic tension, familial tension, political tension. Having more than one kind of tension happening within your story ups the intensity levels for readers. The more difficult and uncomfortable things are for your reader, the more they will begin to squirm, until they need to get to that last page to make sure it all turns out okay.
It isn’t easy to tackle tension when writing a story, but keeping these things in mind can point you in the right direction.
About the Author
AMY CHRISTINE PARKER writes full-time from her home near Tampa, Florida, where she lives with her husband, their two daughters, and one ridiculously fat cat. Visit her at amychristineparker.com and follow her on Twitter @amychristinepar.
By Amy Christine Parker
Lyla is caught between two worlds. The isolated Community that she grew up in and the outside world that she’s navigating for the very first time. The outsiders call the Community a cult, but Pioneer miraculously survived a shooting that should have killed him. Are the faithful members right to stay true to his message? Is this just a test of faith? One thing is for sure: the Community will do anything to bring Lyla back to the fold. Trapped in a spider’s web of deception, will Lyla detect the sticky threads tightening around her before it’s too late? She’ll have to unravel the mystery of what Pioneer and the Community are truly up to if she wants to survive.
Suspenseful and chilling, Astray is Amy Christine Parker’s nerve-fraying sequel to Gated. This fast-paced psychological thriller is masterfully plotted and sure to leave goose bumps. Perfect for fans of creepy YA thrillers and contemporary fiction alike.
Ages 14+ | Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers | Aug. 26, 2014 | ISBN-13: 978-0449816028
For more tips on writing a book, follow along with our “Writing Tips” tag.