What is the one thing that keeps you turning the pages? I think in most cases it’s wondering what happens next. Even if you think you know, then you’ll still want to find out if you’re correct.
The simple term for generating this type of curiosity if of course known as Suspense, which is essential in any story. The more you can build into the story, the more engaged your reader will be. This is not to say that you need constant, nail-biting action. There are all sorts of suspense, most of which boils down to being concerned for one or more of the characters and whether they will be hurt physically, emotionally, psychologically, etc.
One way to build suspense is to throw as many obstacles as possible at your characters. If things are going too smoothly, it’s time to throw something at them that was unexpected. As an author I’ve always assumed when I get my characters into a situation where I have no idea how they’re going to survive or get out of it that my readers will wonder, too.
Building suspense does not mean keeping the reader uninformed. Some of the best suspense is built by alluding to something that might happen, even if it doesn’t. One thing to avoid is blindsiding your readers with something that hasn’t been hinted at in some way.
For example, if you’re writing a murder mystery, mentioning the guilty party in some manner during the story before s/he’s revealed as the culprit is essential. The same principle applies to various other situations as well.
Often more information is more suspenseful than not enough since feeding the reader’s sense of anticipation is the key.
One of the most frequent criticisms for a book is lack of challenge. One way to avoid this is to make sure that every time your protagonist is within reach of what he or she wants that something gets in the way to prevent it. This builds suspense as well as character engagement. You want your readers rooting for him or her and they’ll be a lot more sympathetic if it’s not easy.
I don’t know about you, but I tend to baby my favorite characters and don’t like for them to suffer or be discouraged. However, that is not how life really is. If the plot proceeds too smoothly, it will make readers roll their eyes and maybe even throw the book across the room (not advisable with an ereader). While a satisfying ending may ultimately see them getting what they want, they should work for it, the harder the better. In good rule to follow is if things are going too well, stop and figure out what could go wrong. Then throw that obstacle in their way.
Shocking your readers with something for which you’ve left them entirely unprepared often backfires. This is where little hints and teasers that plant suspicions in their minds should be used. Rather than distract from suspense, they actually add to it via anticipation, which is better than something out of the blue. If something too surprising occurs, it commits the primary author faux pas of throwing the reader out of the story.
Any jaw-dropping occurrences should thus have a foundation in credibility by being set up beforehand. Then fire away!
Don’t shock your readers with something that hasn’t been alluded to in some way. It actually builds more suspense to hint at it, making them wonder what’s going to happen. Providing threats, whether real or imagined, gives the reader more to worry about and anticipate trouble for your hero or heroine, which keeps them turning the pages.