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Page Turners and Show-Stoppers

Page Turners and Show-Stoppers

I read an interesting post by  fellow Arkansas author Tricia Goyer. She shared a review of one of her books who said something like the following: “I was enjoying this book until I realized that the author should have listed God as one of the characters. He seemed to be always lurking. I think the reader should have been warned that this was a Christian book in case that was not something they wanted to read about.” Of course, this raises the question again about labeling and shelving of our books. Do we want a sticker on our books that identifies us as Christian, or do we want to try to appeal to all readers? The optimist in me hopes that this reader continued until the exciting finish of the book. Having read many by this talented lady, I can’t imagine stopping. Maybe when all is said and done, this person would benefit by having the knowledge that God is always lurking in his/her life.

Another thought, though. What about a book keeps you turning pages, and what makes you close it in disgust? How do we keep our readers interested so we can get the whole story told? When they come across something they would rather not read about, are there other elements of the story that will force them to give it a chance?

As an always striving writer, I think I sometimes tend to give books a second chance, just to learn from the author’s mistakes. Sometimes, I’m rewarded by a very satisfying ending. At other times, I regret the wasted time. Our goal when creating a story is to keep the interest and excitement going on every page. So how do we do that?

I find the biggest key to continuing to read is that I truly care about the characters. Not all books have explosions or cliff-hangers on every page. If I enjoy the people I’m reading about, and want to find out more, I’ll keep reading through the contemplative scenes. For this reason, I don’t enjoy “information dumps” in the first chapter of the book. Instead of hearing the character’s whole life story at the beginning, I’d rather learn gradually why she’s afraid of the dark, or why being left alone makes her terribly insecure.

Of course there are absolute turn-offs, especially in non-Christian genres. I won’t put up with foul language or abusive behavior as a rule. Still, it has more to do with the character. If the hero or heroine hates this behavior as much as I do, I’ll tend to read farther than if those things are a normal part of the protagonist’s life.

What makes a character likable? They don’t have to be just like me, but they should have things about them that I can identify with. They must be multi-dimensional, not like a paper doll with a painted-on smile. A great sense of humor helps, but I’ll keep reading if the character seems troubled, as long as there are folks around him/her who are sincerely trying to help. It’s really hard for me to keep going with the no way out stories. If there’s someone out there that the hero/heroine may not even know about who is trying to help, it gives me hope.

It also helps to have a variety of people to read about. Not everyone has to be a good guy, but they shouldn’t all be sinister either. Once again, a ray of hope keeps me reading.

Of course, for those of us who are writing, we need to constantly keep the page-turning thought at the forefront. Put yourself in the reader’s place. Keep it moving, keep it interesting, make them care.

So what do you think? What keeps you  reading, and what makes you close a book and never look back? I’d really love to know!

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