Tuesday, May 10, 2011

How to Keep Readers Reading

Last week I wrote a post about what makes me stop reading a book. To recap quickly, the main reason I would put down a book is too much sexual content, like with Discord’s Apple. In that case, not only was I disgusted by some of the scenes, the story didn’t begin to interest me. I’ve read so many books where I could just have put them down and forgotten all about them. As an author, you have to avoid that at all costs. Your job is to make your readers not just want to keep reading, but need to.

Sounds like a really high goal, right? For now, let’s tackle just one small part: making the book impossible to put down. And how do you do that? By not giving them a place to stop.

If you’re like me, you like to stop reading at a place where you can easily pick up again. Most often, this will be a chapter ending. Sometimes chapter endings can be the perfect places to let your readers take a quick breather, but they’re also the best spots for a reader to stick a bookmark in, drop the book in a drawer and forget all about it. How do you keep them from doing this? Give them a good cliffhanger.

Now, this doesn’t mean giving them a cheap Nancy Drew style ‘I opened the door and gasped’ chapter ending. Ending a chapter with a surprise that is immediately explained in the first paragraph of the next chapter doesn’t help. You need something shocking to the overall plot. Suzanne Collins is a master at this. I just looked over the ending of the first chapters of Catching Fire and they all end at the perfect moment. President Snow arrives. She needs to marry Peeta. A person is murdered. She fails at something. (Sorry those were all vague; I don’t want to give spoilers). In short, each chapter ending only plunges the reader farther into the conflict and makes them need to know what happens next.
This doesn’t apply just to chapter endings, but also chapters as whole. If each chapter only increases the conflict then you don’t even need a cliffhanger. Just keep increasing the stakes and the tension. You’re allowed to give the reader a couple moments of rest (your MC could win a major battle, or finally meet their true love) but always keep a major threat hanging over them. If there’s no conflict, your reader is bored. If you can keep increasing the stakes, they’ll have no choice but to keep reading.

Best of luck to all you writers out there. J

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you about the sexual content, it makes me stop reading.
    And Catching Fire is easily the most suspenseful book I ever read. When I had to go to work and put it down, I couldn't stop thinking about it and picked it up as soon as I could!