I am very pleased to welcome Ezra Barany today, author of the new thriller The Torah Codes with a guest post on writing a page turning novel. So please welcome Ezra and enjoy!
Crafting a Page-Turning Plot
First and foremost I want to thank the impeccable Patty for allowing me to twirl around in her well-crafted website.
I promise not to break anything.
By the end of this post, you will learn a deep dark secret about me.
I just released my first suspense novel, The Torah Codes. I chose to self-publish it instead of mainstream publishing for many reasons:
1) Most thrillers are a minimum of 75,000 words long and mine was 70,000; I didn’t want to force-feed additional words at the risk of snailing down the pacing.
2) I’d have to do the same amount of marketing either way, so I figured if I’m going to market my book, why not make more money per book sale?
3) My novel is available to readers sooner and under my terms.
Unless you’re a celebrity that the publishing company will dance and sing to and put all their marketing funds and efforts into, the only reason to mainstream publish is to guarantee that your book will be in book stores for a brief period of time.
Of course, the danger of self-publishing is that you have a manuscript that may not be any good. But if you have a critique group and friendly writers to help edit your book, you’re bound to have a thumping good read completed. Here’s what people are saying about my novel:
“The story held my attention…. In fact, I had to force myself to stop reading last night.” –Mackenzie Jones, Amazon customer
“This book has a compelling story line and was actually hard to put down.” –Troy B. Stengel, Amazon customer
“My husband and I read this out loud before bed for about a week. It was so exciting that we read two hours each night instead of our usual one hour.” –June Safran, Amazon customer
“This book is a page-turner that I found very difficult to put down.” –A.R. Cook, The Book Review
As you can see, creating a page-turner is a strength of mine. My latest good news is that on Goodreads’ Best Suspense Novels list, “The Torah Codes” is tied with Stephen King’s “Misery” at #17. I’m pretty buzzed about that. http://www.goodreads.com/list/show/243.Best_Suspense_novels – 10915826
Now, many authors think crafting a page-turning plot is a challenging task, but actually a good plot can be created using a few time-tested, proven methods. And if you just follow a few of these tips, your fiction is bound to be hard to put down.
• Line the Cover with Glue
Though not the most common method, this is a sure-fire way to make your book hard to put down.
• Have a Time-Lock
Incorporate a reason for why the protagonist needs to do something within a certain – preferably short – period of time.
Imagine a girl in high school being dared to tell the handsome boy in her English class that she likes him. That’s somewhat interesting, but there’s no sense of urgency. She can tell him whenever the moment is right, which may be never.
Add a time-lock and see what the result is: If she doesn’t tell him by the end of the day, her “friends” will tell the boy that she likes him and that she’s too chicken to tell him herself. Not only does it create a sense of urgency, but it also creates a sense of dread, especially since there will probably never be a “right time” to tell him, so whatever the circumstances are, there’s risk of humiliation, rejection, and even worse, what if he says he likes her, too? What will she have to sacrifice to be in a loving relationship with him? There’s a certain comfort we take in not knowing how the other feels, right? Because as long as we don’t know, the possibility of getting what we want is always there.
But I digress…
• Present a Deluge of Obstacles
For using this method of creating a page-turning plot, first determine the protagonist’s main external goal. Maybe it’s finding the sunken treasure (before the competitors set out to do so next week), maybe it’s finding the killer (before he kills again tomorrow). I stress that the goal must be an external one, because any internal goal is typically a character arc and has next to nothing to do with plot. Overcoming one’s insecurity over committing to love is an internal goal and can be just as compelling, but my focus here is plot. This brings up the point that completing an external goal doesn’t necessarily solve the internal goal, right? Just because the girl and boy reveal their love for each other doesn’t necessarily mean the girl has overcome her feelings of loneliness. But that’s another blog post.
Once you know the external goal, create a list of obstacles that could get in the way of achieving that goal. Perhaps the treasure-seeker has a sinking ship, a severe virus spreads among the crew, a traitor is on board, all of these are obstacles. The best obstacles to have not only depend on the goal, but also depend on the genre. For thrillers, the common obstacles are anything that threatens the life and safety of the protagonist or of the protagonist’s loved ones. Though I don’t write romance, I imagine the external obstacles would be more along the lines of succumbing to temptation, public humiliation due to reputation, experiencing rejection, or physical distance separating loved ones. I may be completely wrong about that, but the point is that the primary obstacle of the general romance genre (not counting romantic suspense, for example) is not focused on threats to the protagonist’s life as thrillers are.
Now that you have your list of obstacles, either come up with creative ways or have the protagonist come up with creative ways to overcome each one. It could be that a resolution is found by not directly overcoming the obstacle. For example, the treasure-seeker resolves the sinking ship problem by, oddly enough, failing to stop the ship from sinking. He dives to his sunken ship to save the photo of his loved one, in the process discovers that the ship has coincidently sunk directly on top of the ancient treasure he set off to find.
• Consider Using a Cliff-Hanger
I understand that it may not be appropriate in every genre, but cliff-hangers always keep the reader turning pages. The simplest way to create a cliff-hanger is to simply restructure the format of the chapter. Often the chapter format is: a) the protagonist gets faced with an obstacle, b) the protagonist overcomes the obstacle. For cliffhangers, have the chapter format be: a) the protagonist overcomes an obstacle from the previous chapter, b) the protagonist gets faced with an even bigger obstacle. The reader will want to start the next chapter to see how the situation gets resolved.
• Consider the Antagonist’s Obstacles and Resolutions
In my thrillers, I like to have a see-saw effect of giving obstacles back and forth between my protagonist and antagonist. The difference is that the antagonist is faced with and overcomes his/her obstacle within the chapter. The protagonist overcomes each obstacle in a later chapter. Often, the way the antagonist resolves their obstacle creates the new obstacle for the protagonist. So a typical chapter might be a) the protagonist overcomes an obstacle causing b) a problem for the antagonist, c) the antagonist solves his problem causing d) an even bigger obstacle for the protagonist.
• Create Subtext
A simple boring dialogue can be made exciting by having one character not know what the reader or the other character knows. If a boyfriend and girlfriend meet for lunch, the dialogue won’t be nearly as interesting as knowing that this is the day she is working up the courage to break up with him. Now the dialogue is compelling. Every time she simply says to her boyfriend that she’s “fine,” and that her food “tastes okay,” brings us closer to yelling at her either “Do it! Do it!” (Break up with him) or “Don’t do it! Don’t do it!” In the excerpt from my book The Torah Codes below, the antagonist Luke McCourt meets the protagonist’s friend Sophia on a train. Though the protagonist, Nathan, has told Sophia about Luke, she has never seen him before. So while Luke knows who she is, she doesn’t know who he is. And as we have already read about Luke’s deadly activities, all we know is that Luke has something horrible planned for Sophia. In other words, the Cat is playing with a Mouse….
I want to thank Ezra for taking the time to share his thoughts with us today. I have read the Torah Codes thanks to my Nook and found it to indeed be a page turner. See below:
About the Book:
A reclusive programmer, Nathan Yirmorshy, pounds out ones and zeros in the quiet of his home while his landlord secretly watches behind a two-way mirror. When an intercepted note connects the landlord to a secret society, and a detective ends up dead, Nathan must abandon his home and everything familiar to him, open his heart to a tarot reader he has never met, and trust her with his life—just as the ancient scriptures have foretold.
About the Author: