books · round robin

What makes a page-turning read?

helena fairfax, a way from heart to heart
Image courtesy of Pixabay

Another month has gone by, and it’s time for another Round Robin. This month the topic is “What keeps you glued to a story?”

What a great question! As a writer, I was really interested to know what sorts of things kept readers turning the pages way past bedtime, and so yesterday I posted the same question in a Facebook Book Club I belong to. (By the way, THE Book Club is a great club for readers and authors alike. No author promo allowed  and some interesting discussions, recommendations, giveaways, and author interviews. It’s a secret group, but the organisers accept new book-loving readers and authors who apply. If you’re interested, message Arthur Author on FB for details.)

Here are some of the answers to this question in my book club on FB. Readers were glued by:

1.  Short chapters with a cliff-hanging ending or a hook. If the next chapter was long, they might be tempted to put the book down until they had more time. This was interesting to me. I’m happy to put a book down mid-chapter – but I have to get to the end of a page. How about you? Do you prefer to finish a chapter before you put a book down?

2. Characters they cared about so that they’re concerned what happens to them. (Lots of people gave this answer, and this was

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Image courtesy of Pixabay

something I could really relate to, as I feel exactly the same. The characters are THE most important thing in a book to me.)

3. Having chapters devoted to separate characters, so that you want to get to the next chapter and find out what’s going on with a particular character. This was another interesting answer. This way of structuring a book is a growing trend, and something I hadn’t thought of before as a page-turner. I’ve read a few books recently which are structured like this. Personally I find this has the opposite effect on me. I get invested in one character’s POV, and when I have to start a chapter from the POV of someone else it jolts me a little and makes me more likely to put the book down.

4. A couple of people mentioned the plot (“lots of twists and turns”) but surprisingly, far more people felt being invested in the characters was more important to being glued to the book than the actual storyline

5. An interesting narrator was also mentioned (eg Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye). Character, again!

It was a short survey of readers, but some fascinating results. Since I’m a romance writer, I was really happy to find how important the characters were to most of the readers compared to the plot. Romance novels are very much character driven. When I structure a novel, the first thing I do is work out what the conflict is between the hero and heroine. For example, in A Way from Heart to Heart, the hero, Paul, is in love with the heroine, Kate, from the start, but she’s already lost the love of her life and the father of her child. Kate’s very anxious that her son won’t suffer loss again, and she thinks forming a relationship with someone else will only lead to him being hurt. Throughout the book I bring in several situations where this conflict is put to the test, and as Kate’s love grows her inner conflict escalates. I’m never sure if I’ve created a page-turning read until the book is actually released and reviews start coming in, so I was really excited to see this review on Goodreads: ”

a way from heart to heart, helena fairfaxThere will be some twists and turns for Kate and Paul as they discover what they have together…This is where I say you must pick up the well written novel to see how well this is all brought out by the author. I loved how this author was able to keep me wondering all the way to the end will they or not get together?

That’s the satisfaction of a page-turning read! If you’re interested in the chemistry of why we can actually become addicted to reading (as I am!) then here’s a post that explains the science.

How about you? What keeps you glued to a story? And if you’re a writer, how do you make sure your readers will keep turning the pages until the end? If you have any questions or comments at all, I’d love to hear from you!

And as this is another Round Robin month, please do check out the other authors in the Robin for their take on this fascinating subject. Enjoy!

Margaret Fieland
Beverley Bateman

Diane Bator

Ginger Simpson
Skye Taylor
Rachael Kosnski
Marci Baun
Anne Stenhouse
Connie Vines
Fiona McGier

Victoria Chatham
Lynn Crain

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22 thoughts on “What makes a page-turning read?

  1. Being drawn into the web of the story. A clever author will entice you in during the first few pages and leave you helplessly trapped in their web of story. Love and respect the authors that do this!!

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  2. Interesting answers from the Facebook group. I’d just asked a question about chapter length to another group as to whether this was a new (relatively) trend. Enjoyed your post.

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    1. Thanks for dropping in, Rhobin. It was an interesting remark about the chapter length and one I hadn’t considered. Thanks so much for organising the round robin. It’s been an interesting exercise!

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Victoria. I have a few of Maeve Binchy’s books, so I’ll check that out. She’s certainly an author who really knows how to keep a reader hooked. Thanks for droppingin!

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  3. Hi Helen,

    I have to get to the end of a chapter before I put a book down.

    Alternating narrations are also a hook for me. Each narration usually ends on a cliffhanger so I’m always really eager to carry on reading to see what happens.

    Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Shaz. That’s so interesting about the alternating narrations. It’s not something I’d ever considered before as a page-turner. Now I’m really going to think hard about that one in the future for my own writing.
      Thanks so much for dropping in!

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  4. What interesting results from the book club survey. I remember when Dan Brown came out, he used super-short chapters. For me, it doesn’t matter how long or short the chapters are. Although, I understand why readers prefer shorter chapters. As for me, a book that grips me is all about the characters. I just finished a book where I related so much to the main character, I felt like I was her. :) Great post, Helena!

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  5. I think character really is king, or queen, as the case may be. There has to be likable, sympathetic protagonists to keep me reading. That is above all else. Of course, my list is substantially longer… :D

    Marci

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  6. Great information here. I have never understood that idea of plot driven stories. It’s always the characters that make the story for me. I never thought about it, but I do usually try to get to the end of the chapter before closing the book. Sometimes my eyelids snap shut in mid-chapter though and I have to quit. Joan Curtis in The Clock Strikes Midnight had a POV change drastically, and effectively, when she told the story from the mother’s point of view. I like the changing POV’s but not more than 3 for me.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, JQ. Interesting what other readers have said about the alternating POV. It made me think back to some books I’ve read where I really thought it worked well. One of them was The Fingersmith, a thriller by British author Sarah Waters. It worked really well, there, and kept people guessing. I haven’t read Joan Curtis’ novel yet, but it’s on my TBR. Now I’m intrigued. Thanks for mentioning it, and thanks for dropping in!

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  7. I don’t like really short chapters. It feels to choppy to me, like I’m reading a Hemingway book–I despise his short, choppy sentences and uncomplicated structure. I give my readers credit for having the intelligence to understand a sentence that is more than 3 words long, and I expect authors I read to do the same. I also dislike the he said/she said style. The only book I read where that worked was “Static”, by LA Witt, and since it was a unique kind of story, it worked there. But it’s not something I will usually read.

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    1. I’ve never read Static, and actually, I hadn’t heard of this book until now. I’ll have to check it out. I’ve learned a lot from writing this blog post. Our Round Robin has been another great exercise. Thanks very much for dropping in, Fiona, and for your interesting comment!

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  8. Fascinating post, Helena, and so are the comments. I have to get to the end of the chapter to stop, so the hook thing doesn’t really make a difference to me. That’s with a “real” book rather than an e-book. One of the pluses of that technology is it opens wherever I stopped, but in the middle of a chapter, I usually have to back up a bit. I agree the characters are important. I have to like them. I’ve stopped reading a book, because I just didn’t care about the heroine. I also prefer reading multiple POV and that’s what I write. :)
    I think one of the best things about this post and your survey is that for every person who likes it this way, there’s a writer who writes it that way and vice versa. Thanks, Helena.

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    1. Marsha, I’m just reading a book that alternates POV between mother and daughter, and it’s a great read. So interesting to see the same events from two different sets of eyes. I’ve started thinking a lot more about this way of structuring a novel since writing this post, and I can understand a lot more the advantages of telling a story in this way.
      Thanks very much for your comment, and for dropping by!

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