How to Hold a Reader’s Attention Until the Last Page

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It’s one thing to begin with a BANG; to get readers interested in our story, our characters. But what we really want–what every writer desires– is for the reader to keep turning pages, to stay engaged, to follow our characters through every twist and turn until the last page.

Ooh, lets repeat those italicized words: Twists and Turns. Without those, a reader will put the book down.

A compelling story, one where the reader is up all night turning, and burning, and rubbing their eyes to read one more chapter, are those books that create wonder, worry, suspense, tension, questions, answers, new questions, feelings, fear, anxiety, curiosity, need, desire, (you get the picture) within every new twist and turn.

So, practically speaking, how do we create some twists and turns?

Other writers and myself have compiled a brief list of tension builders that we often see in stories.

 

 Conflicts: Internal and External

All great characters struggle both inside and out. This brings depth, and tension. So get your character talking about what is going on inside as well as what is happening outside.

 

Prospective danger to a character

These are the what if’s when entering a situation.  We all play this game, so it should be easy to write.

 

Actual danger to a character

This brings suspense. Think Katniss in the Hunger Games, and Frodo in Mordor.

 

An unwanted confrontation 

This creates feelings. Bad ones. No one likes these -make us feel the unwanted, inevitability of it.

 

A confrontation wanted by one character and not the other

Awkward! But we must see what happens, right? Do we want reconciliation? The truth to come out? A kiss?

 

An old fear becoming reality 

This brings worry, squirmy-tension and suspense.

 

A relinquished hope becoming reality

Hope always compels a reader to continue.

 

Relationship ups&downs/tensions

Ahh, love never gets old.

 

A new question or information pops up 

This give and take of information is everywhere in literature. It keeps the reading guessing, asking, and wondering.

 

An answer, or a clue towards answering the question

This makes a reader feel like they are getting somewhere with a puzzle. It compels a reader to finish.

 

An unexpected twist

Guess who showed up?  Or: Surprise, they are not dead! Great tool, but make sure it’s believable.

 

A timeline/the countdown

Tons of films and books employ this tool: “We only have 24 hours, or else the world will end.” Think Speed with Keanu Reeves.

 

Knowledge of the plan, subsequently plan failure

Think The Martian, Andy Weir is a genius when it comes to this.

 

A moral conflict

This is a powerful tool. If our choices and actions conflict with our morality, then characters often have to rethink their choices, and this transforms them.

 

Abstract intellectual questions

This may require guessing. It’s fuzzy. Lines are not clear. Make the reader think it though: Brother’s Karamazov is great for this.

 

Social problems

Dystopians often bring up social problems too.

The last on this unfinished list is the GOAL.

Every story has a goal in mind. Throughout every twist and turn, your events have to keep this goal at the center–your twists must be connected, move forward, or hinder it, or else it won’t matter to the reader very much. On one hand, the picture above with the rainbow shows us the road with the “goal,” where we are headed so to speak, but it would make for a lousy story, especially if you take away the rainbow. One road, no turns. No –for a book to be a worthy adventure, you’ve got to show us the detours, the hang ups, the back roads, the hidden alleys, the gas stops, the rest stops, and the people along the way.

Happy twists and turns, writers!

Nova, signing off from the middle of Asia!

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