What Makes a Page Turner
An interview with Maeve Binchy
This wonderful author was a favourite of mine as a young teenager. Maeve Binchy had a way of making me feel the characters emotions and kept me turning the pages until the very last one. I was almost surprised when I finished her book ‘Circle of Friends‘ as it was the first of her books that I had read and I couldn’t believe it had finished so soon. The experience was like a few hours with a great friend. You know when you cease to look at the clock, stop running though all the things you still need to do, and get so immersed in conversation that you have no idea where the time went? Well, that was what her books were like to me. There was a warmth in her writing and an understanding of people, and of life, which made me pick up and finish one book after the next. Every writer wants to emulate this in their books and every reader seeks this kind of book – a page turner. She shares her experiences.
So, what does she have to say about make a book a page turner?
Use your experiences –
She emphasises the need for characters to do ordinary things, and draws on her experience of staying a hotel and not knowing whether or not to make the bed, as she had never stayed in a hotel before. Amazingly, many readers sent her letters to say that they had the same question. It seems basic, but finding every day situations that will help the reader to connect with a character and will add to the emotional connection is important.
People need to get to know the characters quite well –
Readers often feel the same way as a character in a given situation, and characters make mistakes. We all make mistakes and part of the reading experience, I think, is to have that ‘me too’ moment when you feel for the character because you have been in that situation or you are rooting for them and want things to work out. That is the mark of a good book.
Good doesn’t always triumph –
Good does not always win over evil in a book but it is important for the characters to make life as good as it can be. Maeve says that all her heroes always make life as good as possible in her books. You might have an antagonist who obviously choses a different route but it is important for the protagonist get to a point where they find the best of life.
Not every book needs to have an epic story line to be successful –
Plot is important but a book does not need to be Lord of the Rings to succeed. Take a look at Fifty Shades of Grey! The key element of a book for readers and writers alike should be the characters and what they are striving for, or avoiding, or delaying. Whatever the purpose of their actions, their thoughts and actions need to be compelling.
Interview 1 – with Booker Prize Short List Author of Narcopolis – Jeet Thayil
I’ve been watching some interesting author interviews recently, so I decide to start a series of blog posts on interviews with different authors. There should be nuggets of wisdom for both readers and writers. Today, Stuart Evers interviews the Booker Prize Shortlist author of Narcopolis, Jeet Thayil, at the Faber offices. I love Faber books and when I discovered Faber Finds (launched in 2008, it has brought 1,000 out-of-print titles back into print) I stocked up on some fantastic books. One of my favourite books is Love and Freedom by Rosemary Kavan. The wife of a Communist in post-war Prague, she pens an emotionally charged memoir of her life through the Prague Spring and the trials of the 50s. I bought this for book research for my novel. Honestly, though, I would have read it and kept it regardless. There was a certain amount of serendipity in the fact that the first edition, bought second hand before finding the Faber edition, arrived in the post with a letter from a young girl to her sister. The letter was a deeply personal one and dated February 1993 – the exact date of the start of my novel.
So, if you have just under ten minutes to watch the interview – I’ll grab a coffee while you watch it – I’m sure you’ll find Jeet’s conversation about the writing process really interesting. What strikes most readers is the sheer length of the first page – 7 pages – a structural idea, which came to him much later on. It caused him to go back and re-write, having found the essence of the story. I have read a great deal about plotting and structure and the need for pre-planning, but I’m a writer who likes to let the story unfold as I lay the words down. Having finished my novel and some recent short stoies, I honestly can’t imagine planning it all out in advance. For me it crushes the creativity. Other authors would disagree, I know.
‘I’m not one of those guys who knows before commencing work exactly how the story is going to go – beginning, middle and end. I discovered it as I was writing,’ says Jeet Thayil.
What are your thoughts on plotting versus letting the plot unfold? How do you write? What works and what doesn’t?
I’ve started Narcopolis today and the descriptions are lyrical and sharp. It is an intriguing read.