I’ll confess. I’ve stayed up past my bedtime reading on more than one occasion. What’s more, I’ll probably do it again. Reading a book in one sitting gives better immersion in its storyworld, a closer connection with the characters, and an easier grasp on its themes. This isn’t something I plan to do. I never know when I’ll come across that rare book that so totally engages me I find it impossible to tear myself away. I love when that happens. Don’t you?
The genre of such a book differs for everyone, but chances are good that it contains the elements I’ll outline in this article. Why am I qualified to teach on this topic? I bring to it the perspective of a literary judge. I hesitate to beat my own authorial drum, but I am also an author who receives reviews like this one: “A story that is a must read! I could hardly put it down, it was compelling and kept me guessing with a nice twist in the end. I found myself holding my breath during times and my eyes on the brink of tears, too. I love the characters that Janalyn Voigt has introduced to me. Within hours I was already reading the next book in this series…Wayfarer.” Review of DawnSinger by Cathy Ayres.
You can engage readers just as intensely. Writing talent can’t be taught, but execution can. It’s the same for any art. Someone born with an innate ability for music most likely wouldn’t sit down to play a concerto without having trained and practiced first. Writing a novel readers can’t put down takes just as much effort, but you already knew that, right?
Writing a Novel Readers Can’t Put Down
If you are a reader yourself, and most writers are, you already know instinctively what goes into writing a novel readers can’t put down. This article will highlight them for you. It comes with a delightful assignment, so be sure to read to the end.
I’ve identified five story elements in compelling fiction.
The characters in transcendent novels have a way of stepping outside the page and into imaginations. These are people we recognize. Their desires, fears, struggles, flaws, and strengths are our own. The choices they make are real, not contrived to shoehorn into a plot. Whether these characters win or lose, they travel to the end of the story in ways we admire. As the great character actor and teacher Constantin Stanislavski famously pointed out, “there are no small parts, only small actors.” The same is true for characters in books. Each one should bring life to the story. Want more on crafting characters?
No matter how many questions you throw their way, readers want to know just one thing: what happens next? Give them lots of things to wonder about, and they’ll keep the pages turning.
A few warnings apply here. Make sure the questions you raise are important to the plot. Anything superfluous will kill your pacing while it adds flab to your story. Your questions should be honest. If you’ve ever read a chapter that ends on a cliffhanger that in the next chapter turns out to be nothing, you understand how manipulated this makes readers feel. Lastly, answer every question you raise. This can be tricky when you’re writing a series, but even when you leave certain events unresolved, the reader still needs a sense of closure for this particular installment.
Pacing that Propels the Story
You might think that a novel readers can’t put down would move at a fast clip. Some do, but this is not a requirement. It’s not the speed of the pacing that grips readers but rather a consistent sense of story movement. Never let your story stall on an extraneous scene. Never write scenes merely to impart information, build the story world, or provide color. Instead, work those details into scenes with a purpose that advances the plot.
Create an Immersive Storyworld
A novel readers can’t put down pulls them into a storyworld so completely they forget they are reading. Accomplish this by employing a free tool you already possess: your imagination. Readers can’t follow into a storyworld where you, yourself, have not gone. Set a story tone that creates a story mood consistent with your theme, and your reader will engage with your storyworld.
Connect Readers with Their Emotions
Every book represents a collaboration between the reader and author. American writer Edmund Wilson summed it up this way: “No two persons ever read the same book.” Evoke universal emotions and you’ll establish common ground for readers to enter your story and make it their own.
Final Thoughts from Janalyn
The most accomplished of authors is a student of the writing craft, just like you and me. Learning a new skill can seem intimidating at times. Patient persistence yields huge rewards.
Your continuing education assignment is to identify the books you couldn’t put down and reread them. As you do, pay attention to how the author executes the elements in this article.
Best wishes on your writing success.