If You Want to Write a Page-Turner

Every writer should seek to tell their story in the most exciting and dramatic form possible. Fast-moving stories, no matter how deep, are entertaining. I lump this all together as action/adventure. I know, I know, action/adventure should be a genre unto itself, but hear me out. Every book can have action. The writer only needs to take the time to find it and the imagination to write it.

I love action/adventure stories wherever they may be found: adventure, crime, horror, literary, mystery, romantic suspense, sci-fi/fantasy, Southern gothic, thrillers, war, Westerns. The list could go on, the genres blur, but not the essence. The essence is consistent. The essence keeps me turning the page or not hitting the menu button on my TV remote.

I think of some of my favorite books from my childhood: Beowulf, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Kidnapped, Live and Let Die, Lord of the Rings, The Shining, Swiss Family Robinson, Tarzan of the Apes, Treasure Island. All in their own way action/adventures. All in their own way fast-moving and suspenseful. I think of the last movie I watched with my son: Saw.

Whether your hero is a character lost in the jungle, a cop in the wrong place at the wrong time, a hobbit, a karate kid, a lone astronaut, a paramilitary hero, a postapocalyptic survivor, a soldier or ex-soldier, a techno expert; whether your villain is a baron stealing Western water and land, a dragon, a less-than-honorable artifacts collector, a political extremist, a street thug, a terrorist, a wizard, a psychopathic boyfriend or girlfriend, an alien; whether your hero’s saving trait is an unstoppable spirit, a desire to see right prevail, a kung-fu dropkick that knocks an enemy dead, a survivor in a world gone mad or in oblivion, a technology guru, a man or a woman obsessed, or a kid that can see the future, you’re likely to encounter the five traits of the action/adventure “genre”: a lone hero (likely an anti-hero or misfit); a formidable foe; a skill, talent, or firepower to destroy the enemy; action on every page; and a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter or section. Not a bad list of five to add to any work you’re writing.

Forget all the highbrow things your high school AP teacher might have taught you, people read because they want to turn the pages. They want to be entertained. That’s it. Whether that action is emotional or physical doesn’t matter. After all, in the end, it is not knowledge, exposition, theme, lesson, or dialogue (while all have a place) that makes readers turn pages, but action. Action, action, and then more action.

On every page.

That’s entertainment.

That’s fun.

And sales.

Clay Stafford is a bestselling author, editor, and publisher.