We have all stayed up too late or all night before whether for the birth of a baby, a sick family member, homework, the summer humidity, worry, partying, or work schedules. But when was the last time you sacrificed sleep because you were so engrossed in a book?
I was amused to recently discover that May 10 is “Stay Up All Night” night. I smiled when I read this and the suggestion to go ahead, invite your friends over, and stay up! Sadly, none of their ideas included reading a book. I don’t do it often, but I have stayed up way too late reading an engaging book – either as an editor or when reading for pleasure.
Readers sharing they stayed up all night reading makes excellent reviews. But what is the secret to keeping your readers engaged and turning those pages? Here are a few general ideas to get you thinking.
- Make it relevant – if you are writing nonfiction, try to include personal stories to connect with your reader. Short humorous passages offer an engaging break, especially for a heavy topic.
- Identify with your readers. For a self-help type book, your readers will connect better if they think they can relate to you because you are still learning or have overcome whatever you are writing about.
- Use short chapters and short paragraphs. People are busier than ever. For those who sneak reading into their busy schedules, they appreciate shorter passages. If long chunks of text look intimidating, people are less inclined to keep reading. However, brief chapters will entice them to read just a few more pages for that sense of accomplishment.
- Use cliffhangers liberally! You might consider these creative chapter ending options to keep ’em hanging:
- Create a new problem at the beginning of the chapter, then don’t solve it until later
- Throw the well-loved character into danger right before you end the chapter
- Bring in a new character whose presence upsets your main character
- Uncover a secret unknown to your characters
- My favorite is after a few chapters, switch which character you focus on and show a problem from their angle, then don’t mention that character again for several pages (or alternate between scenes)
- Imagine you are telling the story aloud to a jury. Why a jury? Often, a jury is a random cross-sampling of the population—the creative type trying to get excused, the college student missing exams, the employee losing work, the stay-at-home parent, the business executive, and the person who had to find a ride to fulfill the obligation. Your goal is to engage all of them when they may not want to be there. You don’t know your readers unless you are specifically targeting a small segment of people. So you will want to find unique details for your story to perk up their ears. Maybe your character has an unusual hobby or occupation? Perhaps there is a relationship issue they can identify with? Does your character support a cause? Are there any medical issues your character’s relative suffers from that you can mention briefly? Does your protagonist have any quirky habits? These minor details can go a long way in expanding your readers’ interest.
- Engage the senses. Let readers experience what your character is feeling, seeing, smelling, hearing, and touching. Describe how the emotions affect the character’s body. How does that dark hole the villain threw them into smell? How did the sound impact their emotions? You can google sensory words for writers to get ideas.
Keeping readers engaged is challenging. Most people only give a book a short trial before deciding to finish reading it. Too often, we hear a person didn’t have time to finish a particular book. The trick is finding the magical element to transform an ordinary book into the can’t-stop-reading exciting, nail-biting story.
So what was it that kept you up reading late the last time you did it? Was it the danger? Plot twists? Cruel villain? Romantic element? Or the inspiring, true story of someone who overcame great odds? Reflect on those things and think through how you can apply those elements to your manuscript.
I would love to be your encouraging editor to help you create that masterpiece and touch the lives of your readers. And I won’t feel guilty if your readers stay up too late!
What will you stay up all night for?
You can find more about Pam on her vendor page.
*For more information about Stay Up All Night night you can visit https://www.daysoftheyear.com/days/stay-up-all-night-night/