For years, long before I ever let myself consider that I could write a book, I have been pulled in as many readers are by taglines telling me that the book I am about to read is gripping and unputdownable. And when my journey as an author began, I desperately hoped that someone would someday say something like that about the books I had written. I became obsessed with trying to write a gripping book. I’m not saying I’m there, not yet, but I have learnt a few key things along the way, which I think about each time I start to write. There are lots of things to consider, but I’ve compiled my top three tips to write an unputdownable book.
1) Start slap bang in the middle of something.
Now, when I say this, I don’t mean start halfway through a sentence, but start in the middle of a moment. Start with movement. I love it when I read a book that forces me to step straight into something I don’t fully understand. And I try to do this in my own books.
For example, in Dark Corners, I could have begun on the day Chloe vanished, or the morning after when the village first discovered she was gone. But instead I started three weeks later, right in the middle of a search in the woods. I did this so whoever is reading has to walk with the characters, and hopefully, be drawn straight into the story.
2) Give the reader just enough, but hint to so much more.
We have all read a book where we are spoon-fed information without us being allowed to work it out for ourselves, or better yet, have it revealed with a killer twist. It’s so frustrating.
When I begin plotting a novel, I start with my character and what it is about them that’s important to know. Then, as I put it down on paper, I pull all of that out, leaving things unsaid that find their way into the story as it unfolds. I don’t always get the first draft right, but because I know what is important to hide, I can take things out in the second draft and drip feed them back in. For me, I focus on fine-tuning this deception in my dialogue, not with the words the characters say, but everything they cannot.
3) Add a conflict.
This is crucial as without conflict we have no point. Harry Potter would just be another kid if it wasn’t for Lord Voldemort, and could you imagine a world without HP?! Conflict drives character. It’s the motivator for action and forced change, and us readers love being a part of the conflict, routing for our protagonists. But conflict doesn’t have to be the same scale as the fabled good vs evil. In Dark Corners, I layer conflict with Neve from several areas. Yes, there is The Drifter, the traditional antagonist, but there is also the conflict of her father’s health and the conflict from her struggling to manage the guilt that she’s carried since running away all those years ago. And to really hook in a reader, I try to finish each moment or chapter with conflict hanging in the air, so whoever is reading it just has to turn the page to find out what happens next.
And they’re my top tips: start by placing the reader into the middle of the action, hide as much as you can while hinting at what’s lurking under the surface and always have that conflict to drive the story. Easy right?
Darren O’Sullivan’s chilling new psychological thriller Dark Corners is available to pre-order now.