[Podcast] Jordan Rosenfeld on Strategies for Creating a Page Turner in NonfictionJan 16, 2024
Do you remember the last book you put down and never picked up?
Do you remember why you gave up on it?
The most likely reason is that the narrative failed to engage you. It was probably boring. Bland. Lacked depth. You had no reason to turn to the next page, much less finish the book.
Ultimately, the book—whether it was a novel, memoir, or informative how-to—lacked suspense.
Now, you’re probably thinking, What does suspense have to do with nonfiction?
It’s not an uncommon question. And yet, according to Jordan Rosenfeld, author of How to Write a Page Turner, A Writer’s Guide to Persistence and other books, suspense is key to writing an engaging nonfiction book.
Before we jump into the strategies for creating a page turner in nonfiction, let’s start by contextualizing suspense in nonfiction writing.
What Is Suspense in Nonfiction Writing?
Lots of nonfiction writers struggle to contextualize suspense in their writing. Suspense is a genre for both movies and fiction. Think about car chases, murder mysteries, ticking bombs, etc.
Suspense is typically equated to fiction writing. And fiction writing only. But it’s equally important in nonfiction. After all, it’s the storytelling technique that keeps your reader invested in your book from the first page to the last.
What is suspense in nonfiction writing?
In nonfiction writing, suspense happens when a reader doesn’t know what’s going to happen next.
Still sounds complicated?
Let’s break suspense down into four categories.
The Four Strategies for Creating a Page Turner in Nonfiction
Conflict. The most obvious way to introduce suspense in your writing is through conflict.
In nonfiction writing, conflict exists in the counterarguments that challenge your prevailing idea. This creates unrest in the reader as they struggle to determine who to believe: you or the opposing point of view.
Withholding Information. Withholding information is the easiest way to create suspense in a nonfiction book. Simply put, you, the writer, withhold important information, slowly but steadily revealing it throughout the entirety of your book.
One way to do this, according to Jordan, is to end each chapter with an “offer.” The offer should provide a new insight or tip, but the reader has to read the next chapter in order to receive the new information.
Leaving each chapter unfulfilled keeps your reader invested in your book from beginning to end.
Uncertainty. Similar to withholding information, you can create suspense by leaving the reader in the “unknown.”
Introduce a prominent argument, piece of evidence, or unanswered question in the first chapter. Here’s the catch. Don’t return to it until the end of the book. The information will sit in the back of your reader’s head and urge them to keep reading to find the answer.
Uncompleted Story. The simplest way to create suspense within a chapter, or multiple chapters, is to start a story early and then finish it later.
For example, you can start your chapter with a story, but once you reach its defining moment, you set the story aside and focus on your lesson. At the end of the chapter, or in the next chapter, you return to the story. (Be sure to connect the story’s ending to the findings you provided in the chapter!)
This tactic keeps your reader invested, but also allows them to apply the information they’re learning to an example.
The absence of suspense in nonfiction books can lead to disengaged readers and abandoned books. As you work on your manuscript, practice these strategies for creating a page turner in nonfiction. It won’t be one that ends up in the “donate pile.”