Friday, March 19, 2010

Can't. Stop. Reading.

What makes a page turner? What about a book keeps you from sleeping?

At some point, each of us has come across a book that has grabbed us by both eyes and not let go. We’ve fought to put it down, and failed horribly. They’ve left us walking into work with dark circles under our eyes. Forced us to spend our lunch hours tearing through as many chapters as possible. Turned us into complete addicts.

Twilight did this to me, and though I loved them, it wasn’t the stellar writing – it was something else. Hunger Games is another that kept me up at night. Let’s go old school – Bridget Jones Diary. So what is it about these books? Are the pages lined with crack?

I went back and looked at some of the books that have done this to me to see what it was that made me cling to them, and choose reading versus a night out on the town.

Characters you genuinely care about – Becoming emotionally invested in a character, will keep you coming back with every spare minute you can muster. You know if it ends poorly—you will need to take a few days off to mourn. A character that you relate to and desperately want to see succeed.

Cliffhangers at the end of chapters – We naturally want to close a book at the end of a chapter versus the middle, but when the chapter ends with a car wreck—we HAVE to know who lives, who dies, and how the heck’s the Ferrari. So, we start the new chapter, and darn now we are back in the middle. Keep reading. Now, the body is missing. Well, where did it go? Next thing you know it’s 3:00 am, and you’re hiding in the closet with a flashlight trying not to wake the rest of the house.

Reverse Arc – A story has a natural arc. Each chapter is generally designed the same, building to the climax and then slowly bringing the reader back down. The reverse arc throws all that out the window- starting with action, covering slower parts in the middle of the chapter, and planting you back at the top of a climax at the end, propelling you into the next chapter.

Forget the drapes - Now, I personally have a tendency of skipping past the pages of beautifully written prose discussing the tiny butterfly pattern that is woven into the blue wallpaper. Couldn’t care less. I want to know where the heck did Hot Guy go, and is he the one holding the bloody knife? Maybe that’s just me, but a book that leaves a reader quivering for more is not doing so because of the mass amount of description. I couldn’t tell you what Bella’s room looked like, but I can tell you there was a vampire hanging out in there.

This can not end well – A storyline that appears to have a definitive ending, one that will crush your soul, but the writer gives you the tiniest inkling of hope--will pull you to the end. You may be reading it while peering through your fingers, but you are reading forward. I give it up to Stephanie Meyer on this one for sure. Breaking Dawn! Hello! ‘Nuff said.

Make ‘em laugh – A book that is just fun to read will make a reader cling to it, and heck, even come back for more. It’s not the same Zombie response of, “Must finish book, have to finish book, Boooook.” But the pages flick by just the same. You know the saying – time flies when you are having fun – well so do the chapters. Bridget Jones Diary was one of the first books that did this to me. I hoped things would work out for her, but laughing out loud alone in the dark is why I could not put that book down.

This list is not complete, but I think it’s a good start. So you tell me ...

What are some other things that glue you to the writing? Do you use any of these page turning techniques in your writing? What’s a book that grabbed you and wouldn’t let you go?


  1. Those are all good reasons for me to keep reading! I especially like the "This can not end well!"

  2. "So what is it about these books? Are the pages lined with crack?"


    oh God i hope not.

    hunger games DEFINITELY did that with me. in fact, i'm now fairly certain that the pages are, indeed, lined with crack. or meth. because i'm dying to get my hands on the third book.

    tehe. funny, but informative post. awesome.

    thanks for sharing!!

  3. Awesome post. My favorite is Forget the Drapes/ I believe in minimalism when I read/write.

    And the new look is awesome.

  4. Awesome post!!!

    Harry Potter Novels, Susan Elizabeth Phillips (any of her novels) and Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins were all books like this, one's that I couldn't dream of putting down!!

    I hope that my book is that way for people, I do my best to keep the reader constantly wondering, constantly intrigued, so much that you would rather read and worry about resting for work the following day!

  5. I'm an insomniac. The greatest books are those that enable me to go to sleep, knowing I will wake up to my day job, which is OK as long as I have this book to read on my lunch hour.

  6. i actually enjoy your writing way, very charming.
    don't give up and also keep penning since it just nicely to follow it,
    looking forward to looked over alot more of your articles, kind regards!

  7. Ditto about "this cannot end well". Nothing like a train wreck you just can't look away from. "The Saturday Wife" by Naomi Ragan was like that for me. Anything by Harlen Coben. "Bel Canto" by Ann Patchett. "The House of Sand and Fog" Of course, all of the Twilight series. The reverse arc is like crack for me when reading - that's definitely the hook for all night reading.

  8. Great post! I agree with almost everything above. I'll play the Devil's Advocate for the "forget the drapes" part though. With less description there may be more room for action, dialogue, extra scenes even... But the added content has to be good, not just filler. Descriptive prose may seem like fluff, but if used right it can enhance every aspect of the story. Consider "The Great Gatsby" with the many symbolic references throughout, buried in the prose. That's good writing, different from good story-telling. I think a good book is a balance between both.

  9. I didn't see the old look, but like this one.

    I like minimalism, but I also enjoy description when it's done well. And for me, a page turner is a combination of connecting with the main character and me wanting to find out what happens. Sounds simple. Why is it so hard to do? :)

  10. Aubrie-Welcome, good to see new faces! That is one that gets me. Especially, when there are only a few sheets of paper between me and the back cover - and it STILL looks like it can't end well. *bites nails*

    Tahereh- Suzanne Collins is evil, making us wait so long for the third book. I cursed like crazy when I got to the end of Catching Fire. LOL

    Bethany - Welcome! Glad you like it. I spent entirely too long on the new look. haha

    Jen-I'm with you. That is the kind of book I want to write. I have the humor part (well, I think I do), but I want to learn to capture the others. I will never be an eloquent writer, but hopefully, I will figure out how to line the pages with crack. :-)

    David-I read before bed every night. Not everything I read falls into this category. Sometimes I do need a nice leisurely read.

    Anon-Glad you are enjoying it!

    Jenna - Yea, the reverse arc gets me too. I want to learn how to master that. Oh, and BTW - I just added a few books to my to-be-read pile. THANKS!! :-)

    Michael- I would put those novels in a completely different category. I like both styles. I'm speaking more to the modern style of novel that glues a reader to them, and makes them want to finish it in one sitting. The words are normally light and airy. Great Gatsby is the kind of novel you want to savor. Read slowly. Letting each word melt in your mouth. As is true with many of the great classics. These books have survived the ages because readers want to hold them, cuddle them, line their shelves with them. Hemingway, Poe, Twain - all wordsmiths. They didn't use silly tricks like lining the pages with gimmicks. They painted their novels. They molded each sentence with love and genius that many of us will never reach. :-)

    Laura- Welcome! I'm huge on loving the characters (and the author's voice). Currently, I'm reading a book where the story is not moving along at all. It's crawling along. But I LOVE the protagonist - so I keep reading. :-)

  11. You know, I really couldn't tell you what keeps me reading, the language, the atmosphere, the characters...

    There are some that others will love and I just can't stand. And then there are others that I love and others just shake their head. I don't know. It's all relative, like what people like to eat.

  12. Great rundown! And I love the new look. I have never been able to figure out how to make a non-blogger template work.

  13. Awesome post! I completely agree with all of the reasons you listed. It's a shame when a book doesn't have anything that propels me forward. I hope in my own books I manage to have at least one of these!

  14. Hi Alicia! I found your blog by way of Shelley Sly's, and I'm so glad I did! I love meeting writers from GA. Although I'm not "from here" (as I'm soooo often reminded :P ) I live just outside Gwinnett.

    This is a great post. I'm knee-deep in my first novel project after spending several years concentrating on short stories. The transition is more difficult than I'd anticipated! Running across lists like yours helps remind me of all the various components that make a commercial novel successful.

    I will have to side with Michael's comments regarding the "drapes," however your rebuttal was a point well-taken. I'd classify my writing in the literary fiction category. As you said, heavier language and lush descriptions are exactly what makes works of that genre so enjoyable.

    Great post, great to meet you, and I look forward to reading more of what you have to say!

    All my best,

  15. Y.N.F.P-Thank God there are so many distinct tastes out there. I know mine can be quite eclectic at times. :-)

    Roni - Thanks! It took me a while to figure out how to use the new template. I'd be glad to share if you ever decide - although- I love your layout.

    Shelley- Welcome! I'm with you 100%.

    Nicole - Welcome. I'm not from Atlanta either. Only been here for about three years, but I love it. Are you a member of the Atlanta Writers Club? It is a great resource. I have such admiration for those who write literary fiction. My style is much more quirky and tongue in cheek, but I do enjoy a beautifully crafted novel when I come across one. :-)