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Test your manuscript to see if it’s a page turner

Why are some books so riveting, while others are just okay? What qualities of a story make you want to stay up all night reading even when you know the dreaded alarm will be going off at o’dark thirty?

If your goal is to write a page turner (and whose isn’t?), test your memoir, short story, or novel against these criteria to see how close you’ve come.

1. Create characters readers will care about.  Grab your readers’ attention with fully developed characters. If readers are attached to the characters, empathize, or even hate a character, they’ll want to know what happens next.

2. Make sure that something important is at stake. What does your protagonist stand to lose or gain?

3. Start chapters with a sense of drama, mystery, or trouble. Create curiosity. It helps to start with your manuscript’s first line.

In “After the Game,” from Selected Stories, author Andre Dubus begins: “I wasn’t in the clubhouse when Joaquin Quintana went crazy.”

4. Inject suspense. Create tension by introducing a question in the reader’s mind, leaving a sense of mystery, or foreshadowing trouble. Even as you introduce subplots, maintain the thread of mystery or the big problem that must be solved by the end.

5. Leave readers hanging. Introduce scenes that aren’t neatly answered at the end of a chapter, so that the reader will have to read to the next chapter or beyond for resolution. Or end the chapter with a question or a statement that hints at upcoming conflict.

6. Don’t be predictable. Start with and continue to give your readers something to discover – the sense that if they continue reading, they will find the unexpected.

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