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How to keep readers turning the page: tips from bestselling author Diana Gabaldon

How to keep readers turning the page was the title of a workshop I attended last weekend by author Diana Gabaldon at the Surrey Writers’ Conference.

Gabaldon, bestselling author of Outlander now being made into a TV series, knows what she’s talking about. She has an avid fan base and for good reason—she knows how to tell a good story and how to keep her readers turning pages.

Have you ever read a book or heard of one that was poorly written but developed a big following? Several come to mind that I won’t name here. But there are reasons for their success.

One bestseller from a few years back was set in an art museum and, despite trying to read the novel three times, I could never get past the first third of the book. But others evidently did as it sold millions of copies and spawned a movie. This book kept readers turning the page because the author used cliffhangers at the end of each chapter.

Cliffhangers are usually larger questions that the reader wants answered, but Gabaldon says you also want to keep the reader interested in the middle of your chapters so they get to the end. One way to do this is to ask or raise little questions from paragraph to paragraph.

Some examples of little questions:

  • A knock at the door or a ringing phone. Who is it?
  • A strange or unusual object in the room. What is it? What does it do? Why does the owner have it? (Make the objects relevant to the story, not just random).
  • Have your characters ask important questions that need to be answered. This will keep the reader going.
  • Interesting dialogue that raises more questions.

Ask yourself what other questions you might raise to keep your reader reading.

To see a master at work, check out one of Gabaldon’s novels. You can learn more about them on her website.

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