When I was teaching, I read the novel “Number the Stars” with my students. One of the task we did in class was to rewrite the last few lines of each of the chapters onto one page and discuss what we found. We made conclusions that were eye-opening. The author used cliffhangers as a way to entice readers to read on. We investigated how the author compelled us to want to read the book because we just couldn’t put it down! Today, I’m discussing how to use 10 author tools to entice readers to read on. And, moving these into your writer’s toolbox will help you develop your writing voice too!
How do I make readers read on?
1- Cliffhanger – fill the reader with a surprise and upend their expectations! In this passage, the Nazi soldiers were hovering around the group at the funeral of Great-aunt Birtie. The reader wants to know what’s in the casket and has to turns the page to a new chapter to find out!
“Now,” he said, “it is time.” First, he closed the windows. Then he went to the casket and opened the lid.”Number the Stars by Lois Lowry p87
2- Cause / Effect – make the reader want to find out what happens next! In the next (picture book) passage, there was no rain, which caused a drought. After reading the text and seeing the illustration of a dried up cornfield in the heat of the sun, the reader wants to find out what happens next to Malawi, the main character. What will he and his family eat?
Without water, the sun rose angry each morning and scorched the fields, turning the maize into dust. Without food, Malawi began to starve.The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
3- An Escalating Problem – In these examples, things get worse and worse as drama builds. The main character Evvy is confined in a sanatorium where patients aren’t treated with much compassion. She is learning a new set of rules, is all alone, and encounters people dying for the first time.
“My head dropped back to the pillow, and patient 22781 fell sound asleep.” p22
“Her long list of Loon Lake rules felt like the hardest thing to swallow.” p27
“Here at Loon Lake, it looked like I was a team of one.” p31
“But Dena didn’t apologize. “Lying to Evvy won’t do her any favors. She might as well know the truth. People die at Loon Lake all the time.” p39Breathing Room by Marsha Hayles
4- Trip / Quest – The overall theme in this picture book passage propels the story forward. The reader wants to know if Eugenie completes her goal, which happens to be the complete opposite of what most people think. Her quest is to prove everyone else is wrong. And her actions definitely signal a change in the story!
“To others, sharks were ugly and scary. But Eugenie knew they were beautiful…the sharks were only in her mind, for now. Eugenie decided to learn everything she could about them. So she dove…”Shark Lady by Jess Keating
5- Questions – At the end of chapter 6 in this nonfiction book, the reader learns about Maria who is an artist, and who is intrigued with insects. Except, those who studied insects in her time of life were wealthy gentlemen. Questions set up problems and a chance to see solutions. The reader wonders why is she so interested in bugs? And why can only rich men study bugs, aren’t they everywhere?
“Her family depended on her artist’s income, yet her passion led her right back to her boxes of caterpillars. Somehow, she had to find the time – and the courage – for both.”The Girl Who Drew Butterflies by Joyce Sidman
6- Rhyme / repetition – Picture books are meant to be read out loud. There are natural pauses when text rhymes or has repeated phrases. Readers delight and are encouraged to turn the page to keep the rhythm going.
“You hold me up when you play with me,
when you laugh with me
when you sing with me.”You Hold Me Up by Monique Gray Smith
7- Ellipses– Young readers figure out that the three dots at the end of the sentence means …
turn the page! The little ones can’t sit still with all the anticipation building up inside…
“My heart fills with happiness when…
I feel the sun dancing on my cheeks
I walk barefoot on the grass
I dance”My Heart Fills With Happiness by Monique Gray Smith
8- Alternating Characters – You’ll have to read the entire book to learn about all of Harriet Tubman’s identities and how they are revealed. This story uses several page turn tools, including a reverse-order pattern. Each page signals a big reveal and a new way of thinking about Harriet.
“Before she was a nurse , she was Aunt Harriet
daughter of Ben and Rit
who helped her parents flee their master and find their way through woods and streams
to the safety of Canada and a new home in the north”Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome
9- Illustration – Picture books tell the full story in the text AND illustrations together. You’ll have to open the pages of this next book to admire the artwork of the following text. It’s a beautiful scene of main character Hosea walking to the Public Market with all the livelihood of nature swirling around him. The illustrator chose to make the alliterative phrases play a part in the artwork throughout the story. This allows the reader to be an active participant, like being an “insider”…or a partner of the “dance” between the text and pictures.
Hosea clomped down the steps and shuffled through the brittle dancing leaves. He stepped through the market’s archway and shooed cooing pigeons that were scrounging for breakfast.”Hosea Plays On by Kathleen Blasi Illustrated by Shane W. Evans
10- Setup with a pattern – This last passage sets up suspense and drama with a pattern. Each day a Mars rover goes out and encounters hazards in the new environment. Each day, the reader learns more about Mars challenging landscape and wonders if Rover will make it all the way to the end of its mission. The readers hope Rover is successful because it sounds like there’s a party at the end!
“Twisters form on Mars the same as they do on Earth – when a rising, rotating, vortex of hot air sucks up dust and dirt from the ground.”
“It takes approximately twenty minutes for a radio transmission from Mars to reach Earth.”Rover Throws a Party by Kristin L. Gray
Authors have tools at their fingertips to try and engage the reader and these are just a few. Additional ones include:
- use of transition words
- stopping in the middle of a sentence
- stopping in the middle of a compound word
- using minimal text
See if you can find examples of each of these tools and include them in your own scenes to keep your readers reading on!
A Peril of the Page Turn by Elizabeth Bluemle
Purposeful Page Turns in Picture Books by Kim Chaffee
5 Ways to Make the Reader Turn the Page by Darcy Pattison
It’s All About Page Turns by Melissa Stoller
Turn that Picture Book Page by Patricia Toht
Subtle Art of Pagination by Lindsay Ward
Art and Science of a Picture Book Page Turn by Alicia Curley