4 Ways to Add Caffeine to Your Story

After the release of The Doctor’s Lady, I’m beginning to realize readers are branding my stories as page-turners. I’m always flattered when a reader classifies one of my books that way. I like knowing readers had a hard time putting one of my books down (as opposed to being unable to pick it back up!). 

That doesn’t mean my books are better than another author whose voice and story is slower and more flowing. Because there are stories you savor and read languidly much the same way you sip a rich creamy mug of hot cocoa.

However, my stories are more like an iced coffee that you guzzle on a hot summer day.

One reader, Christy Janes said this about The Doctor’s Lady: “Wagon train stories are not my thing as there are usually several portions that lag and I find my attention drifting. That is definitely not the case with this one! The action is continuous, the hardships believable, and the romance new and exciting. I have already carved out a place on my keeper shelf for this gem of a novel, and you better believe that it's there to stay.”

Another reader, Jill Kemerer said: “I had no idea this (The Doctor’s Lady) was going to be such an adventure. From the opening chapters to the final page, this book doesn't let up, and I loved it. Fast-paced, high-tension, and a bird's-eye-view of traveling across America before the West had been settled--each chapter kept me riveted. Indeed, I read it in less than 24 hours. It was THAT good.”

As I thought about how Christy, Jill and others have described my books, I’ve realized, that although I never set out intentionally to be a page-turning (iced-coffee guzzling) type of author, I have perhaps evolved into that.

Not every writer will want or need to have an iced-coffee story. But for those who are interested in a fast-moving, higher-caffeinated story, here are some of the ingredients I use in mine:

1. Continuous, yet purposeful action.

As I write scenes, I look for ways to keep them from being static. In other words, I want to have my characters DOING things that relate to the plot as much as possible, rather than just sitting around and talking or contemplating.

2. Plenty of new and interesting adventure.

During my research phase (before I start my first draft), I keep a running list of all the weird, crazy, or interesting events/situations that I could use in my story. Then as I’m writing, I try to weave in as much adventure as I can.

3. Tightening the noose of the danger and dilemmas.

As the story progresses, I’m always thinking in the back of my mind, “How can I continue to make things worse for my hero and heroine? And how can I make the danger more threatening?” I want to keep tightening the noose around their necks so that the situation looks utterly hopeless. Sometimes I get my characters into so much trouble, even I begin to wonder how they’ll ever get out!

4. Make every scene count.

Granted not every scene will be a knife-fight, dangerous river-crossing, or attack by a mountain lion. But even those scenes that are less action-oriented can be loaded with emotional or relational tension and conflict. If there’s nothing tense in the scene, then we need to ask if it’s really needed. Perhaps we can skip it and just jump to the next conflict-laden scene.

Those are just a few of my techniques for keeping my stories moving. What about you? Which do you prefer reading—a hot cocoa book or an iced coffee? And if you’re a writer, which do you prefer writing?

Blog tour stops and GIVEAWAYS!

Wednesday 10/19: I'm doing a guest post on Jenny Hansen's blog about how to organize plot ideas into a novel.

Wednesday 10/19: I'm over at Margaret Hansen's blog and sharing whether I've ever been tempted to write a sequel to either of my books.


  1. Your books certainly are page-turning. And that's brilliant. I do like to have a mix though. Depends on my mood. I like a slower, more gentle read as much as I like one that keeps me awake at night! Congrats on those fantastic reviews!

  2. I definitely prefer iced coffee in both what I read and what I write!

  3. I tend to like fast moving stories and they are the ones that stay on my shelf and are re-read over and over. I can't wait to get to the end to see what happens(even when I know there will be a happy ending!) but once I get there I want to slow down to make it last. I like to have another book ready to start reading as soon as I finish one.

    Don't you wish writing a great book was as easy and fun as reading one?!

  4. I'm going to have to buy your latest book and read it.

  5. Good morning to all of you! *Waves to both of the Jessicas* :-)

    LOL, Rick! Hope you enjoy the iced-coffee! :-)

    And Sherri, I hear you. What we can read in a few short hours takes months to craft! Each of my books literally takes about a year to get ready for publication--between the researching, writing, editing, and more editing. It's a complicated, slow, long process to create a fast-moving story! :-)

  6. Must we choose between cocoa or iced coffee? :) I think this is my problem as a writer: I like it all. But these are good tips. I'll be filing them in the "Keep this in mind" corner of my brain.

  7. Good point, Kathleen. Perhaps there are stories that combine an element of both in the development of the pacing. Shall we call that a regular dark roast cup of java? A sipping kind of drink that still has the caffeine? ;-)

  8. Great tips. Maybe in quieter books we find a different way to hook the reader b/c I love those books too. :) Maybe emotional adventures.

  9. Is this that month's worth of Starbucks I mentioned on my blog last week, Jody? :)

    Great tips! Even if my stories aren't full of physical adventure, I want them to be full of emotional adventure so they're still page-turners. :)

  10. I love hot chocolate stories!! I love being able to sip them and enjoy them. But I also love iced-coffee ones.

    I think the hot chocolate ones, while not necessarily page-turners, tend to stick with me more in the long-run. But the ice-coffee ones are the ones that make me lose sleep in that giddy, I-love-this-story kind of way.

    I'm not sure what I write. We'll see what readers say when my first book comes out!

  11. Laura and Sarah, You both mentioned the emotional factor of creating a page-turner. And that's a great point too. I'd love to hear how those of you who write emotional page turners keep that tension throughout your books. It's something I'd like to incorporate more into my stories.

    And Katie, I think reader feedback is really key in helping us understand our brands. Because ultimately our brand is really about how the reader perceives us. It's usually not something we can create. So it has been fun to see how I'm being branded! And I can't wait to see yours!

  12. Jody!

    Amazing post! As I'm in the plotting stages right now, your post was so timely!

    I prefer the fast paced "iced coffee" books, although I have read several amazing "hot cocoa" novels, that I've enjoyed. Just depends on what kind of mood I’m in and the writing style and quality of the author.

    As usual wonderful, and very timely post!

  13. Hi Amanda! Good! I'm so glad that the post is giving you some food for thought! From what I've seen of your writing so far, I'm guessing that you're well on your way to having iced coffee books! :-)

  14. Keep bringing it, Jody. We need all the caffeinated stories we can get!
    ~ Wendy

  15. Great post, Jody!! I liked the fact that you pointed out that you can give your less action-packed scenes by increasing inner tension--kind of like an emotional punch-in-the-gut.

    And congrats on the release of The Doctor's Lady! I'm a little behind the times since school started. :-)

  16. Wendy, YOU do NOT need caffeine. I'm telling you, girl! ;-)

    And thank you for the congrats, Paul! I'm sure you've been incredibly busy transitioning back into teaching. Hope it's going well! Hope it's giving you fuel for your writing!

  17. Keeping a list of events/ situations that could be included is a great idea. That way I'm never at a loss for adding something fun/interesting/crazy/intense to a chapter. It's easy to get too relaxed when writing and to forget about the interests of the reader.

    Great post with a creative title. I'm very eager to read The Doctor's Lady!

  18. Hi Heather! I love my list of brainstormed ideas. I'm constantly referring back to it while I'm writing for more ideas--especially dangerous ones! I think it's really important to think about what might interest the reader as we're crafting our stories!

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  20. Loved this post, Jody!! I am an "iced coffee" reader AND writer!! If there isn't something about the book that makes it hard to put down, I usually have a hard time reading it. :-P Of course, there are those few exceptions, some really good "hot cocoa" books that need to be savored, but more often than not, I like to be on-edge the entire time reading, gripping the pages as I try to read faster to find out what will happen next. Same with my writing, I like to keep things on edge as much as possible.


  21. I haven't read The Doctor's Lady yet, but I couldn't put The Preacher's Bride down! I am struggling right now with #1 and am so glad you wrote this post. I know I'm way too much into back story and need to develop more action. Thanks for the post Jody!

  22. I would definitely love to see a sequel on The Preacher's Bride. I had no idea it was based on John Bunyan's life until I finsihed it. He is truly one of the giants of the faith and it would be interesting to learn more of his life after prison. I realize you used your imagination to fill in the blanks but even so, the setting etc are a reminder of the price paid for his writings.

  23. I'm an iced-coffee kinda girl, so evidently I'm going to have to buy your book too. :-) *waves hi to Rick*

    I think balancing pacing with in-depth character motivation is always a hard thing for me. I'm often chasing the action and forgetting the details.

    Thanks for this post AND for rocking the house over on my blog, More Cowbell, today. :-)

  24. Hi Jody. Like Katie, I like a mix of stories. There's nothing quite like that 10-hour-straight kind of day when I allow myself the luxury of reading all day long...or sometimes staying up until 2 am if a book is JUST THAT GOOD. :) Then again, sometimes the slower-paced book have some good truths in them that take a little longer to absorb.

    I'm writing my first novel and it's probably the latter, though it definitely has some action in it too. I'm learning to balance as I go.

    One question: Do you use an outline as you write? If so, how detailed is it? You said you weaved in action as you went so I wasn't sure if this meant you didn't use an outline or if you veered from your outline as you wrote. Just curious what other writers do! :P

    Thanks for your fun post!

  25. Hi everyone! It's fun hearing all of the varying tastes we all have in our love of reading and writing!

    Mrs Rita Marie I'm so thrilled that you liked The Preacher's Bride that you would enjoy a sequel! That's always such a high compliment too! :-) Thank you!

  26. Lindsay asked: Do you use an outline as you write? If so, how detailed is it?

    My thoughts: Hi Lindsay! You should head over my guest post over at Jenny Hansen's post today *waves to Jenny!* I talk a little bit more about how I organize my thoughts into a novel. But a short answer to your question is, yes, I do use a brief outline that I make before starting my first draft. It's nothing set in stone which then allows some room for the story to develop during the first draft. I love giving my creativity some wiggle room. But I also need a simple road map of where I'm going! Hope that helps! :-)

  27. I like both types of books, but I have to admit, I'll never re-read an iced-coffee book. The thrill seems to be in the tension of not knowing what exactly is going to happen. Once the tension is gone, I no longer care. I'll re-read the slower books over and over. But, as I said, I definitely read both.

  28. Your books are definitely iced coffee reads, Jody. Even when I'm reading them in draft form and going slowly to provide you with a solid critique, I find my heart racing. Many a night I've stayed up late to edit "just one more chapter" because I was eager to find out what happened next.

    I tend to be a hot chocolate kinda gal, but I veered more toward the iced coffee side on my latest story, much to my surprise. Perhaps you're rubbing off on me. =)

  29. Jill, that's an insightful comment! Yes, some of the adrenaline that comes from a page-turner is NOT knowing what will happen next! I wonder if a once-over read is true for page-turners for most readers?

    And Keli, you're so sweet! You know I love your initial feedback and surprising you! I can't wait to read your latest story!

  30. Fantastic advice as I have come to expect from your blog. :) It thrills me that I am already doing a lot of what you advise - you keep me motivated. I only hope that my first book engenders the same kind of positive reaction as your fiction.

  31. I absolutely love this simile. It works so well for the two types of books you're describing. I like both kinds of books and I like to read one then the other, not similar books one after the other. I have a feeling my work-in-progress novel is a hot chocolate with a few surprise espressos along the way! :-)

  32. Graeme, I truly hope that your reviews will thrill you as much as mine have me! There's something so ultimately rewarding about knowing you have pleased your readers!

    Hi Cally! Love your expression about having a few surprise espressos along the way! I think all of our stories can benefit from throwing in a few surprises along the way. Don't you just love a story where you're taken completely by surprise? I need to work on adding a few more surprises to my stories! Thanks for that thought!

  33. I read both kinds of stories, but like Jill, I never read a page-turner twice (except maybe the first bit and the ending to study the author's technique). Thinking of my choices as caffeine laden or hot chocolate sweet is an interesting perspective. I think my writing is somewhere midway between... then again, there's caffeine in hot chocolate, too. That's probably a good thing since even the sweeter stories need to have conflict and move along at steady pace. :)

  34. Thanks for your follow-up to my question, Jody. I'll check out your post on Jenny's blog.

  35. Jody,

    I'm so late to the party, but I loved your post today! Thanks for including a portion of my review in it, too. :o)

    I like both types of stories, but find that I talk at length to my friends about the iced-coffee types. When I come across one that sent my skin to tingling, or my blood to boiling, I talk about it for days!

    I think that most readers want a book that's got something exciting or different from the norm. Your latest definitely fits the bill!

    (And if I didn't mention it to you before, congrats on your INSPY nod! You deserve it so much!)

  36. Thanks for the advice here. Particularly about making every scene count, and asking if it's really needed. I think I need to pay more attention to this.

    I think I naturally head towards writing an iced coffee :). Usually, I'll prefer to read them too, but there are occasions I'm happy for the pace to be slower. A lot depends on the book.

  37. I'm definitely a caffeine addict when it comes to books. However, I really enjoy deep characters and I love when some of that page turning element comes from inside the characters rather than just external conflict.

    I seem to see a lot of hot cocoa stories in the CBA. There's nothing wrong with that. LOL! They might even sell better than the page turners, but I'm a page turner fan.

    Thanks for the advice, Jody!

  38. Solid advice as always Jody. I certainly subscribe to the thought of every paragraph should be the cliffhanger (of sorts), each keeps the caffeine flowing.

  39. Great advice! I especially like the part about continuous and purposeful action, as well as making every scene count. In the midst of editing my current WIP and pre-planning a second, I am finally tightening the "noose" around the important plot points, and getting rid of the loose ends for the current WIP, and planning out how to avoid those pitfalls with the next.

  40. Great articles. I used a similar worksheet for characters. Helps me keep organized about them. Interested in some exaples you have of Read on Prompts. Thanks for the articles.


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