Thursday, September 5, 2013

For Readers' Eyes Only: What Keeps You Turning the Pages?

"I can't explain it--I just couldn't stop turning the pages."

We've all likely encountered a book at some point that had that exact effect on us. Maybe it was a book that you thought was absolutely amazing, one that blew the doors not just off of the barn, but also off of the house, the car, and the neighbor's barn.

But I've read plenty of books where I think, "Meh, it's okay, maybe one more chapter..." at 8 pm, and before I know it, I look up and it's 1:30 am. Who are these dastardly literary wizards that have this hypnotic effect on us as readers?

I'll name names: Dan Brown is one. Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games books are another set of culprits.

When I read those Hunger Games books, I was obsessed. And yes, I am a healthy thirty-year-old male. Even though I thought the story lost momentum from book one to book two to book three, I simply couldn't stop reading; I was outright addicted.But why? What was it about those books that kept me so enthralled? I have a few ideas, but then I'll turn things over to you folks in the comments:

-Cliffhangers: This is usually the standard "writer's advice" of how to keep people reading from chapter to chapter. I have to admit, in all of my books, I try to consciously end a chapter at a part that will pique folks' interest enough to have them continue on.

At the same time, I think cliffhangers by themselves aren't necessarily sufficient to keep folks going. Around the fifth-or-so time an author leaves me on "He slowly turned the knob and leaned into the door..." I'll throw my Kindle down in disgust, then head to Best Buy and complain that it was normal "wear and tear" that cracked the screen.

-Short Chapters: The thought process here is that the reader thinks, "Oh, that was quick. Maybe one more chapter tonight..." Before you know it, the book has pulled a Civ II on you, and it's morning.

Again, though, I'm not sure I think about this as a reader. Lately, it sure feels like I've been paying more attention to the "percentage complete" bar at the bottom of the screen than chapter breaks.

-Pure Story: Is it really that simple? Is it just that we like good stories, that there's something about certain stories that resonates with large numbers of people?



So there are my ideas--what does everyone out there think? Any other things that keep you turning the page far later than you plan? Let us know in the comments.

Happy Hunting!

D.J. Gelner is the Co-Founder and CEO of Hunt to Read. Email him directly at

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