Turning The Pages
Raymond Chandler was a huge admirer of Erle Stanley Gardner, the creator of Perry Mason. If you've read one of the many Perry Mason novels, you'll know they ticked along like wildfire but without much style or literary panache. Chandler brought a European style, all of his own, to the detective novel and changed the genre forever. Yet, he was envious of Gardner, and once said that all the literary fireworks, elegance of prose, style, composition, structure, everything is worthless if the reader doesn't want to turn the pages. Gardner wrote page-turners, and sold millions of copies, and Chandler very much wanted to have that ability.
How to make readers turn the pages until the end.
There are any number of ways to get the pages turning fast. Great characters and snappy dialogue will only get you so far. Take Dan Brown. I've read and enjoyed nearly all of his novels. He gets readers to turn the page. He even gets people who only read one or two books a year to buy the book and turn the page. How does he do it? One recent review said in his latest novel he fails to write a single good sentence in the entire book, even by accident. But it's no accident that his novels attract readers in their millions. That's a lot pages turning in the wee small hours. That is a huge talent. So what are some of the ways to get those page-turning engines started?
Here's one tip.
Creative writing books talk a lot about character motivation. What does the lead character want? They mistake the engine to drive the plot forward, for the engine to drive the reader forward. They are slightly different. Bridget Jones wants to be in a relationship, have a good job and make it in life and love. That's what Bridget wants. The real skill, which is a slightly different one, is to make the reader care about what Bridget wants. Because if I'm invested in Bridget, and I want her to succeed in life and love, then I will damn sure turn those pages until the end to make sure that she gets it. It's not about what the character wants, it's making the reader invested in whether the character gets what they want. There are several ways to do it, but you'd do well to read Helen Fielding's brilliant novel again and find out how Helen does it so effortlessly. It involves turkey curry and knitwear.
In my creative writing course February 22nd and 23rd at The Rivermill, I'll be revealing all the methods I know to get the reader invested in your story, and frantically turning the pages including POV (you'll be amazed at how easily one POV change can hook your reader), hurling chainsaws, little victories, and more.
If you'd like to attend the complete novel writing course, contact Paul Maddern at The Rivermill.