We’ve all experienced a novel that from the moment we pick it up and read the first line, we can’t put it down until we reach the end. “It was a real page-turner,” we passionately tell our friends and families when recommending they read and experience the same heart-racing suspense driven book. It may seem like creating these stories, saturated in unbearable suspense, and holding readers captive scene by scene, can only be executed by the masters – those seasoned, published authors with countless page-turning novels in their repertoire.
But what it really boils down to is knowing the basic elements of storytelling, and how well novelists are able to utilize those various elements to build suspense, action, resolution, and believable characters into each scene.
Here are some of the fundamentals:
Create a Compelling Plot
Every story is sparked by an idea that centers around a storyline, characters, and/or some kind of event. Most people will dive into writing around their ideas and wait for their book to begin to take shape. Typically, the results of this method are complex plots, which slow the writing process and dilute the important focal points of the story. Elizabeth Sims’s HCM, or Heart-Clutching Moments, is a simple method of listing all the pivotal points in the story that conjure intense reactions from the reader. She recommends writers use this list to help keep the story focused and build important suspenseful moments.
Tension and Conflict Must be Present in the Scene
Tension is an important mechanism in creating conflict within a story. And conflict is an essential force that drives the story forward. Both are crucial factors in grabbing and keeping the reader’s attention and keeping them invested in the story. Conflict can appear in several different forms—other characters, nature, forces of repression, to name a few. Readers should be able to connect to the characters through inner monologues, dialogue, and unexpected actions.
Bringing it All Together
There are many tools in a writer’s box for crafting a page-turner. While only a few are expounded upon here, they are necessary fundamentals that must be present in every story, composed in such a way that they collectively create powerful prose. The characters in the story, and the reader observing the events, should find themselves experiencing the journey together. As a writer, understanding the core elements of fiction, including conflict, tension, climax, resolution, dialogue, compelling plots, and action, is key to developing story layers – the layers of sequences (scenes) that become short stories (chapters), which eventually evolve into a focused narrative.