How to Keep Your Reader Turning Those Pages

I was fortunate to be asked to assist with a lecture at Salford University earlier this year, with the wonderful Gill James, and was very impressed with the standard of writing craft being taught. I’m sure Gill won’t mind if I share a little of what we all learned on the subject of Pace; or, How to Keep Your Reader Turning those Pages.

Danger – This may seem obvious, but let the reader see the danger. They need to know the worst that could happen so they’ll worry more that it might.

* If the mare didn’t keep moving, the wolves would bring it down by the throat, same as they would a forest deer.

Risk taking – Actions and decisions taken by the protagonist create fresh problems. In the following extract from my novel, Wolf Soul, Slav’s actions cause Maria to fall from the horse which puts her in immediate danger:

* Letting go of Maria, Slav reached up to tear at a low-hanging branch. He wrenched until it snapped off in his hand. Needles jabbed into his skin, but he didn’t care. He had to get the mare moving. The wolves were nearly on them. With the stick, he struck a fierce blow across her flank. The horse lurched forwards. Maria screamed as her body slipped from the saddle.

High stakes – Make sure the thing in danger is important to the protagonist. Initially our concern is for the horse, but then the stakes are raised and it’s Maria life that’s in danger.

* She fell sideways, one leg hooked over the mare’s back. She flung her arms blindly around its neck. A she-wolf lunged towards her, jaws wide.

Car chase element – During highly dramatic moments, when you want to make the scene as ‘real’ in the reader’s mind as possible, use visually clear actions and lots of sensory details.

* Snow flew up from the mare’s hooves as it pounded through the forest. The she-wolf ran with it, the animal so close Slav could see curls of rancid breath escape its nostrils.

Language – Using short sentences and short phrases within longer sentences can add a sense of pace. Also using action words such as – flung, lunged, grabbed, heaved – can add momentum.  

* Dropping the switch, he grabbed the coat she wore, tried to use it to heave her onto the horse, but the she-wolf sank its fangs into the matted sheepskin.

Use of Plot – During a dramatic scene, weave in a line or two which relates to the plot or a subplot. The following line adds a question in reader’s mind – why does the Wolf soul not help?

* As the animal’s weight dragged Maria down, Slav called to the wolf soul to lend him its strength, but nothing happened.

Sudden twists – Of course one of the essentials of creating a pacey read is to add interesting and unexpected twists.

Most important – None of the above will work if you reader doesn’t already care about the protagonist; what they want and whether they will get it.

Put it all together and this is what you get:

He spotted the first beast to his right, lolloping alongside them at a steady gait, keeping its distance among the trees. Soon it was joined by others, swift and sleek, moving like phantoms under the evergreen.

Catching their scent, the horse reared. Maria fought to keep control, but the animal snorted and kicked as the smell of wolf overwhelmed its senses. Slav hung on tight to Maria’s waist. If the mare didn’t keep moving, the wolves would bring it down by the throat, same as they would a forest deer. But the horse floundered, too bewildered to run.

Letting go of Maria, Slav reached up to tear at a low-hanging branch. He wrenched until it snapped off in his hand. Needles jabbed into his skin, but he didn’t care. He had to get the mare moving. The wolves were nearly on them. With the stick, he struck a fierce blow across her flank. The horse lurched forwards. Maria screamed as her body slipped from the saddle.

She fell sideways, one leg hooked over the mare’s back. She flung her arms blindly around its neck. A she-wolf lunged towards her, jaws wide.

Slav shuddered at the size of the beast.

“Hold on, Maria.”

Dropping the switch, he grabbed the coat she wore, tried to use it to heave her onto the horse, but the she-wolf sank its fangs into the matted sheepskin. As the animal’s weight dragged Maria down, Slav called to the wolf soul to lend him its strength, but nothing happened. Snow flew up from the mare’s hooves as it pounded through the forest. The she-wolf ran with it, the animal so close Slav could see curls of rancid breath escape its nostrils.

“Slav!” Maria cried.

Slav wasn’t about to lose Maria. If the wolf soul wouldn’t help, he’d do it himself. In one seamless movement he let go of the coat, grabbed hold of Maria’s apron and pulled with all his strength. He prayed the material would hold.

Maria’s arms were ripped from the horse’s neck. The coat peeled from her shoulders. The heel of her shoe skidded along the ground as Slav clung to her apron, his muscles screaming with the effort. At full gallop the horse raced through the forest and Slav hauled Maria back onto the saddle. Behind him Slav could hear yelps and growls as the wolves fought over the dead material of his grandmother’s coat, venting their rage on its empty skin. It wouldn’t take long before they returned to the hunt.

Related Articles

Setting the Pace: Increasing Dramatic Tension

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13 thoughts on “How to Keep Your Reader Turning Those Pages

  1. […] Lorrie Porter’s blog This Craft Called Writing, she discusses the elements of pacing and how to keep readers turning the pages. No matter what […]

  2. Steve says:

    An excellent post, thanks 🙂

  3. Pacing is SOOO pivotal. I love how you mention short sentences, powerful, sentences, because that’s one of the major ways we can translate moment to moment, adrenaline-rush thinking and actions.

  4. I’m still trying to get my breath back! Shows it works.

    Only one word struck an odd note with me – ‘rancid’. You can smell rancid breath but not see it, surely?

  5. Great post, Lorrie. Thanks, once again!

  6. Reblogged this on 4writersandreaders and commented:
    Writing Tips: Another great post from Lorri Porter! ~ Bette A. Stevens

  7. […] Lorrie Porter’s blog This Craft Called Writing, she discusses the elements of pacing and how to keep readers turning the pages. No matter what […]

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