Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Making of a Page Turner


It was suggested to me that an interesting topic for a blog article would be what ingredients are necessary for “making a page turner.” First I had to ponder the meaning of this request. The phrase “page turner” has different connotations. It could mean “a mechanical device which turns pages.” Such a useful device would free a reader’s hands for more important tasks, such as reaching for a cold drink. It would also eliminate the need for said reader to lick his fingers to facilitate the page turning process, thus saving saliva and preventing soiling of the printed page.

But, the “page turner” need not be mechanical. A servant could render the same task. Picture the page turning servant. He stands above the reader, fanning him with a large palm frond, when, suddenly the master/reader makes a subtle gesture. The skilled page turner deftly reaches around his employer’s shoulder and turns the page, all without missing a beat with his fan.

However, I do believe that the request referred to the written word, specifically stories which grab a reader’s attention and hold it tight, while forcing the enthralled booklover to stay glued to the book, turning page after page to find out what happens.

What, then, is the recipe for baking the perfect page turner? Start with a story, something that people care about. Lost puppies, families torn apart by war, lovers who are doomed by a terminal illness, the end of the world; you get the idea. Perhaps a family of puppies suffering from a terminal illness which threatens to cause the end of the world. Maybe, but that sounds a bit too complex.

Now, add in the proper characters. Ordinary people forced by circumstances to act in an extraordinary manner is one tool, a favorite of mine. Or, a mysterious character with a secret past who may just be a spy or the lost king, anything that keeps the reader guessing. Add a touch, or a heavy helping of romance and stir well. Create a roller coaster of highs and lows and juxtapose them so that the now thoroughly immersed bookworm just has to find out how our protagonist is going to get out of this mess or triumph over the evil villain.

To spice up the story, add a villain, one who hates our hero or heroine, perhaps with good reason. Maybe our hero has his flaws; is trying to live down a shady past. All the better. Purely good or evil characters can become a bore; multidimensional characters are far more interesting.

Finally, add a dash of comic relief. A dog or parrot or supposedly simple child who has the wisdom of the ages. Mix everything together, bake at 350 degrees for one hour and, voila, a page turner is created, we hope. Or else it may be a soufflé.

An example from my body of work: Minotaur Revisited follows the Minotaur of Greek mythology on a journey over thousands of years. He is trapped in the Labyrinth, which immediately makes him a sympathetic creature, even though he is of monstrous appearance. He is thrust into situation after situation which threaten to destroy our hero. He meets people who only want to use this sensitive monster for their own evil purpose, he suffers over and over, but in the end finally finds true happiness. Along the way he has numerous and varied sidekicks and companions to keep the reader interested and turning the page. These secondary characters are either sympathetic or villainous, thus making the reader care.

Making a page turner has one essential ingredient. It’s all about making people care.