Creating a Book Readers Can’t Put Down

Ideally, every writer wants to create a page-turner. No one wants a reader to get started into her book, get bored, and then put it down and forget about it. That’s the kind of nightmare we all hope to avoid.

However, an overwhelming number of books clamor for the reader's attention. Often, readers (like the rest of us) lead busy lives with little time for the quiet pleasure of reading. Other louder, more demanding entertainments pull readers away from the written page. And thus, too many books get shoved aside, left unfinished only to accumulate layers of dust.

In today’s market, we HAVE to write gripping stories if we want to keep our readers’ attention.

But . . . how can we do that? What goes into making a page-turner?

I don’t claim to be the expert. But reviews and comments on The Preacher’s Bride have rolled in over the past couple months, and readers have said things like, “I couldn’t put it down” or “Couldn't stop reading—kept picking it up whenever a moment presented itself between chauffering, cooking and errands!!” or “I was hooked from the very beginning and had to make myself go to bed last night and finish it today!”

Those kinds of comments make me stop and contemplate what kinds of things I did within The Preacher’s Bride to make it a page-turner. I don’t necessarily have a specific formula. Much of it is an accumulation of years of learning and practicing fiction-writing techniques.

And yet, if I had to break down a few of the page-turning techniques I used within my story, here’s what I’d say:

Develop relatable characters:

Our goal should be to present our characters in such a way that our readers can feel as if they’re inside the person’s head, experiencing everything with that character. But they can’t come to life for our readers, if they haven’t come to life for us.

Before starting my first draft, I spend quite a bit of time developing my main characters. I want to know not only the details of their outer lives (appearance, likes/dislikes, family background, etc.), but I also delve deep into their inner lives (their motivations, dreams, goals, what drives them, etc.). Here's the Character Worksheet I've developed.

We can bring our characters to life so much that they jump off the pages, but we also have to make them jump into the hearts of our readers. Our readers want characters they can love despite their faults. Since none of us are completely all bad or all good, we can’t identify with characters who are too heroic or too villainous. We relate best to characters that are a mix.

Create and prolong suspense:

No, The Preacher’s Bride isn’t a suspense novel. But every book can benefit from having elements of suspense laced throughout. Noah Lukeman in his book The Plot Thickens, describes suspense this way, “Suspense, simply, is about creating and prolonging anticipation.”

Once our readers are invested in our characters, suspense is process of dangling our readers breathlessly along, continuing to put our characters into situations where readers longs to find out “what happens next.”

Lukeman says this, “One can have underdeveloped characters and weak journeys and a hackneyed plot, but if suspense exists, and audience will often stay with the work . . . suspense, more than any other element, affects the immediate.”

Increase conflict:

When I look at developing conflict, I generally target three main areas for each main character: physical (or outer) conflict, emotional (or inner) conflict, and relational (or romance) conflict. I weave all three strands together like a braid. These conflicts are often inseparable yet distinct. And the writer’s job is to keep intertwining the strands without letting one sag.

Yes, the conflicts will ebb and flow. Perhaps we will bring resolution to some issues, but then we must introduce new situations and circumstances that continue to push our characters. Ultimately, we want to prolong the tension for as long as possible throughout the book—keep the braid tight until we near the end.

Use Read-On-Prompts (ROP):

At the end of every scene and chapter, every time we switch character points-of-view, every break in the action—we should look for ways to keep the reader wanting to find out what happens next. We want to make it hard for them to put the book down at a “natural” resting place.

However, we need to be careful about tacking on a ROP. It needs to flow naturally out of the scene. If we resolve something within one of our conflict strands, then we should make sure we start introducing a new problem or issue before we wrap up the scene. In other words, we should try to end our scenes with unresolved conflict of some kind.

So, those are just a few of the techniques I try to employ within my stories. Now it’s your turn. What do you think makes a book into a page-turner? What techniques do you use or have you seen other authors use that makes the book difficult to put down?


  1. You pretty much covered most of them. This is a brilliant post, Jody. Loads of gold nuggets in this one!

  2. This was terrific. All points were right on. If I connect with a character, I'll read about them making lasagna - it doesn't matter how mundane the task. For me, that is the def. one way. But suspense can make up for a lot of under developed characters or bad writing. Ooh, and sometimes great sensory writing will lead me from paragraph to paragraph.

  3. Great post. Here's something a little different. Have you ever read Rebecca Miller's, 'The Private Lives of Pippa Lee'?

    It's plotless. But I couldn't put it down. Everything was so real. The characters relatable despite me having absolutely nothing in common with them.

    This book was one of a kind to me because not only did it not have a plot, but suspense lacked because of it.

    However, I REALLY wanted to know more about the characters, and experience their experiences. It was a masterpiece in my eyes. I've never read anything like it. And it's proof that being different works if you can do it right.

  4. Great post, Jody! I'll be bookmarking this!! What makes me want to keep turning pages can be wanting to find out what happens next, a great voice, a character I care about, and hopefully all three of those things at once.

  5. This is the kind of post an entire book on the writing craft is built on, Jody! I think you hit all the main points! Excellent! And a post I will return to.

  6. thank goodness am not the only one who wondered about the private lives of pippa lee.
    Hi jody i like how you differentiate btw Relational and inner conflict sometimes i get those two mixed up.

  7. You working on a craft book next?

    ~ Wendy

  8. I highly agree with those who called your book a real page-turner, Jody. I devoured "The Preacher's Bride" in two days. :)

    Thanks for your keen insight here!Although I write non-fiction, I make every effort to keep it gripping. Think I'll have to add "The Plot Thickens" to my Christmas wish list.

  9. I like this formula. Im so glad you are getting positive feedback - it's nice to know you are doing something right! Thanks for the tips.

  10. Great post. I agree, read on prompts, and lots and lots of tension. =) Have a great weekend!

  11. Excellent suggestions! I'm trying to ramp up the conflict in my current WIP and all I can say is thank goodness for editing. :-)

  12. “One can have underdeveloped characters and weak journeys and a hackneyed plot, but if suspense exists, and audience will often stay with the work . . . suspense, more than any other element, affects the immediate.”

    Be wary of this, however. The reader might finish that book, but never pick up another one by the same author (I wouldn't). I don't like to be manipulated in that way--being strung along with no emotional attachment. Thankfully, your book doesn't do this, Jody. :)

  13. I like what you said about creating and prolonging suspense. This can be done with every genre but it's necessary if you want to make the reader keep reading. Thanks for the tips!

  14. Jody, this is great. And thanks for sharing your Character Worksheet. I'm preparing to dive in deep with the characters for my story, and this is very helpful.

  15. Great advice! I'm currently reading a book that has infiltrated my mind - it's all I can't think of. I don't know what it is about it. Maybe it's the ridiculous situations that I just need to know what happens, or my investment in the characters. I hope I can write something so enticing someday!

  16. I think I need to work on my read-on-prompts. Because I am a person who loves closure. I think I write each chapter towards closure -- it's just the way I think.

    And you're right, these need to be built into our work in a way that is natural and not contrived.

    Today, I posted an excerpt from the book I'm writing. I've never done that before. If you're curious, you can take a peek (wink, wink)

    Now that was a read-on-prompt right here in my comment. . . See? I'm practicing already!

  17. Great post - and congrats on the good reviews for The Preacher's Bride! As a reader, I've found that the single most important element in keeping me turning the pages is an unanswered question. If the author has hooked me with a tantalizing clue, but hasn't yet solved the mystery, I'm going to be reading as fast as I can to satisfy my curiosity.

  18. As a reader, I want to be able to cheer for a character, to relate to them and feel their feelings. I also want payoff at the end of the book in terms of resolution and a feeling of fairness. I never like books that end suddenly or without resolution, but that's just me.

    Great post and thanks for sharing the character worksheet.

  19. Hi Jody,

    I love your point on conflict. I've never categorised or considered conflict in the way you've mentioned:

    physical, emotional and relational.

    That's definitely something I'll be taking away to use in my own writing and character development.

    Thanks for that,


  20. Great advice! :)

    Things that make me not finish a book:

    1. Setting descriptions which go on and on . . I like to be immediately privy to the most important setting details, but beyond that, I prefer to "see" the rest of the details pop out of my imagination as I read.

    2. Bumbling characters that bumble through the first few chapters without really doing anything interesting or important. Even if they save the world mid-way through the book, I won't know, because I will have moved on to another book before reading to that point.

    Things that make me finish a book:

    1. Real, palpable characters with traits I see in myself and the people I know in my life. I like to easily imagine myself as the hero, or sometimes, the villain.

    2. Subtext. Yes, saving the world and destroying the world is exciting, but what is the hero and villain REALLY trying to do at the end of the day? But I don't like to be bonked over the head with that info. I like it to flow subtly and naturally.

    You mentioned some romantic conflict is essential to hook readers. Must all genres have at least a hint of romance? My 2 un-shopped manuscripts have none. :)

  21. These are all great points! Thanks for sharing. I am definitely bookmarking this post. =)

    I wrote a post similar to this subject a while ago if you'd like to read my opinion:

    Basically, the six points that I mentioned in the above post were:
    1. 3-dimensional characters
    2. An appealing setting
    3. Symbolism (I believe symbolism is a powerful tool to attract readers and bring out a spiritual meaning without having to seem "preachy".)
    4. Real problems, real conflict
    5. A journey
    6. Positivity
    7. Create a story that is different but the same (uses familiar elements of other treasured stories in a new way).

  22. All super points. One of the most important is character; if the reader doesn't care about or identify emotionally with what's going on with the MC, they won't keep reading.

    One thing I do is try to keep surprises in my scenes. If I think the reader expects something to go a certain way, sometimes I comply, and sometimes I veer off. Unpredictability!

  23. Suspense definitely keeps me turning the page--that breathless wonder of what comes next! I also think a tight pace helps. I write sweet romances, but I try to keep the pace tight.

    Great round-up, Jody!

  24. Anonymous asked: You mentioned some romantic conflict is essential to hook readers. Must all genres have at least a hint of romance?

    My Answer: No--not necessarily a romantic strand. But I do think readers like relational elements of some kind. Perhaps a relational strand could take the form of a relationship between a father-son, friend-friend, or brother-sister.

    I write historical romance, so the relational thread is most definitely a romantic relationship. It's incredibly important and has to be woven in as strongly as the other two (external and interal conflicts).

  25. Sometimes it seems that a lot of people become discouraged in their writing by the modern reader's short attention span. It's good to find ways of keeping the story interesting without it sounding like a Michael Bay script. Thanks for the post!

  26. Thanks for your answer regarding romanic conflict; not sure why I showed up as "Anonymous." :)

    My manuscripts aren't romances (obviously)- one is black humor and one is satire. But I do have plenty of relationship conficts in both.


  27. Excellent information! Thank you for sharing what you have learned with all of us, Jody.

  28. Great tips. That very last point you made is covered in Jack Bickham's book Scene and Structure. He talks a lot about stimulus and response and having a problem before you've finished the response therefore leading into the next stimulus.

    You put it really well and give us all something to work with.

  29. You covered them each beautifully. However, I would love to add setting the scene in a way that in your minds eye as a reader you are actually there. I'm a character writer and I just love my characters.Nevertheless, finding the balance of just enough description is an important aspect to me.


  30. Let's hope mine do some or all or even a couple'a them :-D

  31. Great advice as usual, Jody, thank you!


  32. These are all such great tips. Even though The Preacher's Bride wasn't a suspense novel, you did a great job of creating suspense! The tension was great, and it provided me with a great example of layering.

  33. Jody, I really enjoy your blog. Also, I just stole your character worksheet! Thank you for sharing tools like these. They are so helpful to beginners.

  34. Hey, Corey! Glad you're finding the Character Worksheet helpful! And thanks for reading my blog! :-)

  35. This is a really helpful post, Jody. it has helped me frame criticism I have for a critique group member's manuscript, and I will take these elements to my own work as well. Thanks!

  36. I love the braiding metaphor in the "Increase Conflict" section!


© All the articles in this blog are copyrighted and may not be used without prior written consent from the author. You may quote without permission if you give proper credit and links. Thank you!