Seven secrets of writing a page-turner

shoeprincessNovelist Emma Bowd, whose The Shoe Princess’s Guide to the Galaxy is published by Bloomsbury, knows a thing or two about life, love and shoes (see her Shoe Princess blog!) – and writing the perfect page-turner. Here she shares the tips that helped her on the road to publication. Do let us know how you get on putting them into practice.

I wasn’t classically trained in creative writing as such, but I did learn a lot of lessons ‘on the job’ from my brilliant editor, Marian McCarthy, the pick of which I’ve set out below. Very best, Emma

  1. The characters have to be believable and relatable with a real sense of depth.
  2. Every character has to exist for a reason – I had ‘characters galore’ in my first draft and needed to stand back and really assess who was needed to tell the story. If a character overlapped with another, it had to go! Which leads nicely into…
  3. All writing is re-writing! During my first (and most memorable) re-write, I had to merge the first four chapters and cull several characters – because the pace was too slow and the characters not working hard enough for their place in the story (30,000 words worth!).
  4. Pacing – keep it moving along swiftly and don’t get bogged down in too much detail, while genuinely making people care about the characters and their futures. Quite a tricky thing to achieve.
  5. Keep the dialogue distinctive and fresh.
  6. I always like to end a chapter with an open-ended ‘nugget of information’ or ‘hook’ to make the reader want to keep reading.
  7. Less is more – as my editor, Marian, likes to say, “tighten, tighten, tighten!”. Print off your work and edit words from sentences and see how much better it reads. Reading your work out loud helps with this. (It’s so annoying, but it always works!)


Filed under Authors and Books, Writing Advice

7 responses to “Seven secrets of writing a page-turner

  1. Shankut Somaiya

    Dear Emma

    Thanks for the seven secrets, they really are usual seven sins of first time writer, grateful for the tip. I am not a trained creative writer, but somehow is attempting to write.

    I am in the middle of writing a novel, no agent, no publisher, but has that anticipation of writing.


  2. Emma Bowd

    Dear Shankut

    I started off 6 years ago with a burning idea and much enthusiasm…with no agent and no publisher.

    After many hundreds of hours of writing (and re-writing!) and lots of cold-calling (the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook is an invaluable tool) I am living my dream with the best publisher in the world!

    Keep believing in your writing; and perfecting your craft by being open to as much help as you can find.

    Absolutely do not give up.


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  4. lawrenceez

    Very interesting. I’m reworking parts of my second novel, in particular the opening twelve chapters where a lot of back story is introduced. I keep asking myself – do I really need this scene? Yes, a few are important, but not all.

  5. Shankut Somaiya

    Dear Emma,

    Thank you for the encouragement. We all live in anticipation and that anticipation is really the power behind all successful writer. I have ordered your book and shall read when my writing chips are down or bugged.



  6. Phyllis Rose

    Dear Emma,
    I am glad I found your page. I am in the start of trying to get a publisher. I do not know what to expect except possibly a lot of rejections. My first one was returned in just a week and was so nice it certainly did not seem like a rejection. I wrote back and told her it was uplifting and encouraging rather than depressing. But, I would love to have had her for my agent.

    All these great tips are a godsend.

    Thank you,
    Phyllis Rose

  7. Emma Bowd

    Dear Phyllis
    It’s certainly my pleasure to pass on ‘the knowledge’, and am thrilled that you found it useful!
    And very glad to hear of the encouragement in your rejection letter – I really applaud anyone that takes the time to write constructive feedback. (It’s much easier not to.) Keep learning and moving forward from it.
    I am fresh home today from several hours at an author signing and meeting lots of really wonderful shoe princesses – the true reward for many years of hard work!
    All the very best