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  1. OES

    OES New Member

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    What keeps readers turning pages?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by OES, Sep 1, 2020.

    I've had this on my mind for ages. Here are some possible clues.

    Pace? Someone mentioned *Tarzan of the Apes* over on r/books a little while ago, and it got me thinking about the pleasant experience I had reading that book. Despite it having what I feel is a very slow pace, Burroughs managed to draw me in and keep me reading. So fast pace may not be the key to keepin' 'em turning pages.

    Danger and Stakes? Stories that can somehow quickly get us to understand the stakes at hand may keep us reading. On the other hand, without character building, the stakes don't mean much; why does it matter if a character I don't care about yet is in danger?

    Reading Level? If a book is supposed to be, say, for Young Adults, and you load it up with college-level words, those may serve as "speed bumps" for your readers and lead them to put the book down.

    Building curiosity? Both with movies and books, there are storytellers who get a lot of flack for being hacks. But one thing they do well, which covers a multitude of their sins, is build curiosity.

    I'll briefly mention two: Dan Brown and J.J. Abrams.

    Dan Brown gets clowned by more "serious" writers for his prose, his reuse of themes, and, well, lots of stuff. But damned if he isn't good at building curiosity. In *The DaVinci Code,* when Robert Langdon's hotel room door gets knocked on late in evening, and he has his coat put on him and is whisked into the night, you're curious. When we're "shown" the polaroid of the old man, naked on the floor, we're hooked -- why is the man in the Vitruvian pose? We're turning pages.

    J.J. gets joked on for his "Mystery Box" comments. But, on paper at least, "mystery boxes" are a damned good idea: begin to open up something on the first few pages that the audience gets curious to peek into. So, in *The Force Awakens*, our first few shots of Rey are as a masked figure scavenging around a crashed Star Destoyer. Who is this man or woman? And why is there a crashed Star Destroyer?

    In *Cloverfield*, not a lot of time is wasted before, boom, the Statue of Liberty's head gets knocked off. What the hell is going on? Is this a natural disaster or a terrorist attack or what? Everybody out to the street. Now we're running. What are the cops shooting machine guns at? Curiosity galore.

    Of course, Abrams is also good at opening mystery boxes (Who are Rey's parents? Where'd Luke's lightsaber come from?) that he does a dogshit job of closing.

    All of which makes me suspect that you can be weak in quite a few areas of writing (plotting, dialogue) but if you can succeed at creating curiosity, you can succeed at writing.

    --

    I'm eager to what other writers think about getting readers to turn pages. Even better if you can cite examples from stories we know.
     
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  2. marshipan

    marshipan Contributor Contributor

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    I agree that curiosity is a good device for driving readers forward. Sometimes I refer to it as having an "interesting question" the reader wants answered. I found myself halfway through a book I didn't really like simply because I needed to know what was going on. Except, I did eventually stop reading because the plot was too slow and boring. You can't put all your eggs in one basket.

    Anyway, I think a very strong first chapter is essential. That's where you go all out on creating curiosity and presenting a question the reader wants answered. A great first chapter can carry a reader through many "mediocre"/slow chapters.

    Then, as you work towards the "answer", you need to build tension to carry the reader forward. All the while you need to create characters that the reader eventually connects to. That way when they finally get the answer to the mystery you presented, they still want to keep reading to find out what happens to the character.
     
  3. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Get off my Balzac... Staff Contributor

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    To see what happens next...

    (Deconstruct that, and it implies that something is always happening)
     
  4. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    For me, it's easy. Immersion keeps me turning pages. If I find myself immersed in the world of the story, and involved with the characters and their dilemmas, I stay glued. Even if not much is happening. It's why I always appreciate a slow, rich start instead of a wham bang wheee kind of start. I like to get to know the characters and setting before real stuff starts happening to them. An interesting setting and characters with depth to them will always get me on board.

    Too much distance and objectivity puts me off my journey to immersion. This is why I find Third Person Omniscient less effective than a close Third Person Limited. And why First Person is usually effective, provided the characters can draw me in to their world and aren't just yammering on about their philosophy of life, etc.

    I like coming to the end of a novel and having to shake myself back into the real world. That, to me, tells me it was an effective story and a memorable experience. It's often grounds for going back and reading the whole thing again at some point.
     
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2020
  5. Aled James Taylor

    Aled James Taylor Contributor Contributor

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    I'd say there are two sides to this. Firstly, there are the positive aspects of the book which encourage the reader to read, and secondly, you need a lack of discouraging features. The first few pages are your sales pitch, where you sell the story to the agent/publisher/reader. The main purpose of page 1 is to persuade the reader to read page 2; without that, you're finished.

    On the positive side: Tension is most important; the anticipation of momentous events about to occur. An intriguing, unanswered question is good. Humour is good, and I don't mean cracking jokes, I mean characters saying and doing funny things whilst being deadly serious. If you put a smile on the readers face, they'll likely want to carry on reading.

    Concerning things to avoid: The first rule must be. 'don't confuse the reader'. The reader can easily become unsure of how's speaking, what the characters are referring to, if the text is thoughts or narration, where the character are, etc. I'd minimise tedious passages of mundane details. Minimise arbitrary information which a reader may need to take notes of. Awkward sentences which would not flow easily when spoken out aloud aren't good. A lack of description would make it difficult to imagine the scene (but try to make descriptions interesting).

    It's like staws on a camel's back. You can get away with a few negatives but if you have too many, the reader will put the book down and not bother picking it up again, for no particular reason. The positives have to outweigh the negatives.
     
  6. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, confusion is a big one for me as well. It's hard to get immersed in a story when I haven't a clue what's going on. I'd say always sacrifice 'art' for clarity. Learning to deliver clarity so it appears to be 'art' is ...well ...an art. :)
     
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2020
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  7. LucyAshworth

    LucyAshworth Member

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    Well, to take a note from addictive game design, chain quests or information. If you want to be a massive dick to your reader, don't give them a sense of closure at the end of your chapters.

    "And then he rested and took a break, for when the sun rose, he would engage his plan."
    Nah.
    "He formulated his plan and was about to go to sleep when some jerk started approaching to disrupt his sleep."
     
  8. IHaveNoName

    IHaveNoName Senior Member Community Volunteer

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    A good hook gets the reader into the story. A good plot keeps them going.

    Easiest way to lose me? A slow, boring story. I don't mind a book that rolls along, as long as something happens. Case in point: Christopher Ruoccio's Howling Dark. I loved the prequel, but I gave up halfway through the second one because it was dead boring - after an interesting first third, the characters are stuck in one place, and the MC maunders on about philosophy and nothing happens. From the reviews, it turns out nothing happens until clear at the end, when he pulls out some deus ex machina to save the day. (And for the record, his purple prose didn't help either.)

    Contrast that with Anne Bishop's Written in Red, which I just finished. Great story - good characters, interesting world, lots of humor. I normally limit myself to reading during my breaks at work, otherwise I'd run out of stuff to read, but I just had to burn through the last 100+ pages in one sitting. The story was building up to something big, and the climax was the most intense I've read in a long time - like a roller-coaster coming up that first slope, then BAM.

    That's how you write a story.
     
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2020
  9. rick roll rice

    rick roll rice Member

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    What about the pure fun factor? Sure tension, suspense, and mystery are necessities, but what about fun? The magic moment when a writer successfully nullifies readers' objections and the reader sees parts and pieces of what he/she considers as his/her core values on the page and begins projecting himself/herself as point of view character. In some books that also happens when a tidbit of wish fulfilment occurs. I don't know much though, I haven't read as much as I want.
     
  10. hankas

    hankas New Member

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    A good plot keeps readers interested in your story. Depending on how long your writing is, you may need to drop a few goodies every now and then to keep the readers engaged. Keep the final piece of the puzzle till the very end.

    If you stay too long at one particular point and do not give any reward for the reader for sticking with you, the readers may stop reading. Sometimes a writer may get carried away in describing a particular scene and the writer goes on and on without advancing the plot, and the readers will get bored.

    On the other hand, if you move too fast and drop the rewards at too short of an interval, the readers will have less appreciation for your rewards. Readers may find your plot superficial and less immersive. You need to make the rewards feel earned.

    Usually in the beginning, you may want to keep fairly fast pace in evolving your plot. Keep dropping reward after reward to keep your reader piqued. After a while, you can slow down and bring the readers deeper into your story. Change the pace randomly to keep them interested. You can pick up the pace again towards the end.

    I also find typesetting helps. Certain books with proper typesetting are pleasurable to read while others are not so much.
     
  11. Lifeline

    Lifeline North of South. Staff Contributor

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    I'm surprised no one has mentioned interesting characters yet. If I get a sense of the internal inconsistencies and desires in the person behind the POV, it'll do two things: a) Make me wonder how he got to be such an interesting person, and b) if he'll get what he's burning for. Ergo, I read on.

    Occassionally I've been captivated by plot-driven novels, but they are few and far between. Mostly it hinges on the POV character.

    ETA: We're in the plot section. Apologies for derailing the thread. Back to plot. :oops:
     
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  12. Foxxx

    Foxxx The Debonair Contributor

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    Fingers.

    EDIT: Also, interesting characters, an interesting plot, maybe some big mystery question you've implicitly promised would be answered to your readers.

    So, interest. Curiosity.
     
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2020
  13. Lifeline

    Lifeline North of South. Staff Contributor

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    I can't guess what you mean, so care to explain? ;)
     
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  14. montecarlo

    montecarlo Active Member

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    I’ve been reading a lot of early novels from highly successful authors, I.e. before they were so big they could do whatever they wanted.

    One of the keys to get me engaged is to present a likable character and put him/her in danger (doesn’t have to be physical, can be psychological too). I can read through some shit chapters if I just have to know the character is going to be okay.
     
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  15. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Actually, I reckon you don't need to apologise. Creating interesting characters should be part of plot development, in my opinion. The two aren't mutually exclusive. There will be a lot of difference in a plot's development between an overconfident character who decides to take a journey, versus a timid character who decides to take a journey. The plot will certainly be affected by what a main character's motivations and personality are like. They will encounter different kinds of challenges, and will solve problems differently. They may also learn entirely different lessons as the story progresses.
     
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  16. Aled James Taylor

    Aled James Taylor Contributor Contributor

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    Variety is important. If you write about the same type of thing all the time, the reader will soon become bored. Suppose you write a novel about a young girl who's struggling with a romantic relationship. You might include details of what she thinks and how she feels about the boy she likes. You might include details of conversations they have together and those the MC has with her friends, where opinions are given and reacted to. However well you do this, a succession of such accounts will soon become dull and monotonous.

    You could introduce more variety by including sub-plots and backstories. Ideally, each should fall into a different category of issues. If your sub-plots only include accounts of the romantic relationships of the MC's friends, and your backstories are all about the characters' previous relationships, you're just going to end up with more of the same and each passage will read much like the previous one, even if the names and places are different. Alternatively, your sub-plots could deal with friends who are being racist or homophobic, non-romantic aspirations, and practical concerns defined by the setting. A backstory could be to do with her parents' separation. What's important is that each element is a different type of thing.
     
  17. DriedPen

    DriedPen Member

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    I think in a single word answer there must be change.

    There has to be some sort of change from start to finish.

    This can be in a broader sense of an entire book, so that a character changes drastically from start to finish, but it can also be by chapter. I mean, if you write a whole chapter, and nothing has changed, that is a good chapter to consider cutting. Change needs to take place because that is what really is involved in a readers mind is, they are asking themselves constantly, "What change will happen next."

    This can even be on a microlevel within a chapter. If two characters are having a conversation, here too some sort of change must take place. SOMETHING has to have changed from the start of the conversation, to the end, otherwise, it is a rather useless read. Its filler...leave it out. It does not have to be drastic change, and it is mind blowing how much build-up it takes to maybe get a single point across, but there has to be change.

    Consider if there is not. There is nothing more amateurish then reading a conversation in a book where a character is being told information they already know. It happens all the time in books because it is an easy way for a writer to promote a major point. But it falls horribly flat because there is no change happening, and the reader feels belittled. They ask themselves, "Why is this conversation happening", and disengage from the book.

    But even a slower paced book can keep a reader interested IF there is enough change to keep interest in it high.
     
  18. DriedPen

    DriedPen Member

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    Think of writing a great story as it being a dance...

    It is not characterization alone. If you are at the club why are you watching the couple romantically kissing? Or the couple that is dressed absolutely flamboyantly? Or the couple arguing as they dance? You are watching any of them three couples because they are MEMORABLE compared to the other 97 couples that are just average.

    But it is not just pacing. You still might be watching that young couple romantically kissing even though the song is slower paced instead of techno-jamming!

    But if all that couple does is kiss romantically, what interest is that? You scan around the dance hall and see what else there is to watch, then come back to them from time to time. Stories with bad pacing does that. Its the equivalent of a reader skipping pages because they are bored.

    Now what would happen if during a slow song, the girls boyfriend came in and tried to cut in their slow dance? What if he kisses her...forced her maybe...but wait...no...she likes it...she is kissing him back...her tongue in his mouth??? Now boys and girls, we have us a story. Slowed paced perhaps, but CHANGE is happening.

    So it is a dance...change occurring constantly between pacing, plot, and memorable characters!
     
  19. montecarlo

    montecarlo Active Member

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    I wrote a passage recently where my hero is in a wilderness situation and needs to start a friction fire. I narrated his exploits, the successes and setbacks, and got pretty detailed with it.

    when I was done, I looked it over and realized it was boring. It took me a half day of thinking it over, but I realized my mistake: my hero needed a fire, but he didn’t need a fire right now or he would die.

    Easy fix. Just douse him with water and induce some hypothermia.

    So imo definitely having stakes is important
     
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