What’s going to happen next? You turn the pages as quickly as you can. Agitated, you read on, lured by the sense of dread that’s pulsing through your veins.
You don’t realize it, but you’re holding your breath. Something’s going to happen. Something big! You just saw Jane Protagonist’s fiancé slip something into her drink. But he’s deeply in love with her, or so you thought! What did he slip into the drink? And why? What’s he up to?
Scene after scene, he keeps dropping something into her drink, and you’re becoming more and more confused. He’s also meeting with a female colleague of hers in secret. Who is she? Why are they meeting like this? What’s going on? Now he’s luring her younger brother to an upscale hotel, claiming he has urgent news. But he’s never met her brother. What could he possibly have to tell him? What?! What?! What?!
Has a book ever filled you with such anticipation? Have you ever stayed up hours past your bedtime to finish a book? Have you ever turned the pages so quickly you ended up with a nasty paper cut? Or, called your mother in the wee hours of the morning to tell her that she must read that book?
Why did that book make such a big impact on you? Quite possibly, it had to do with two things: engaging characters and a carefully constructed plot. Both are crucial to the makings of a great novel.
Your characters must be intriguing and memorable. But, most important, they must be worth caring about. After all, if I don’t care what happens to Jane Protagonist, no matter how horrible her fiancé is to her, how twisted the relationship is between him and the brother, or how much care the author took to develop a winning plot, I’ll lose interest.
In his book, CHARACTERS AND VIEWPOINT (Writer’s Digest Books, 1999), author Orson Scott Card explains that vivid and memorable characters aren’t born: they have to be made. And it’s your job to make them both vivid and memorable. If you don’t do it, who will?
Use description to paint clear pictures of your characters. How much description or the type you use, depends on your writing style and the genre for which you write, but you must paint a clear picture for your reader. This is crucial!
Characters should also be memorable. Many times when remembering a favorite book, you may find that most of the plot is now fuzzy to you, but the characters—or parts of them—continue to live inside your head.
Carefully Constructing the Plot
A carefully constructed plot is also important. Though the element of suspense is critical only to certain genres, namely mysteries and psychological thrillers, the element of suspense can deepen the overall impact of any work of fiction.
The goal is to create tension from the very first page, to trap readers in the viscous web of suspense as early as possible, and to keep them there to the very end.
Nancy Kress, author of BEGINNINGS, MIDDLES, AND ENDS (Writer’s Digest, 1999) writes, “…you must hook a reader or editor in the first three paragraphs.” Think about it. There are tens of thousands of books available to readers these days, not to mention other forms of entertainment. There are also tens of thousands of aspiring writers vying for the attention of agents, editors, and readers. You don’t have much time to make an impression. Make a good one as quickly as you can.
Give your protagonist a difficult goal, and then throughout the novel add complications. Give her a deadline and force her to make difficult choices. Convince the reader there’s no solution; no way out. Always leave a question in the reader’s mind. This will give them a great reason to continue on.
Prolong agony. By making life difficult for your protagonist, you’ll inspire anticipation, even dread, in your readers. But dread is good! Stir readers’ emotions whenever you can. Force them to empathize—to feel. That’s what they want! They want to feel sad, angry, inspired, annoyed, and excited. They want to be taken off guard. They paid for good entertainment; make sure you give it to them. By writing intriguing characters and crafting a solid plot, you’ll create a compulsive need to turn the page. They will skip meals, miss bedtimes, and (though not condoned) ignore spouses and friends until they reach the answers for which they’ve been searching. They’ll keep turning the pages until they reach the end.
Conversely, draw readers in, but don’t let them down. Nothing’s worse than reaching the last pages of a book just to find that the ending is a letdown. Many books do that; don’t let yours! Make yours a page-turner…from the first to the very last page.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jennifer Jaynes is the USA Today bestselling author of the thrillers, Never Smile at Strangers, Ugly Young Thing, and Don’t Say a Word. Visit her website to learn more about her work: www.ProjectJennifer.com.