Believe me, I see it all the time.

Wannabe writers come to conferences and tell me they have done it all. Desire is written all over them. And they’ve paid their dues by:

I’m telling you, these people even look like writers. If there’s a uniform, they’re wearing it.

But when they show me the first chapter or two of their book, they’re hesitant. And usually with good reason.

Oh, their concept is fine. Sure, sometimes beginning writers have an idea that better suits an article or short story than a full-length novel or book, but usually that’s not the problem.

There are enough good ideas to go around.

The problem is that their work lies flat from the get-go, offering nothing that grabs the reader by the throat.

What’s lacking is that certain something that too many writing teachers—and students—believe can’t be taught.

Trust me…

…it can be taught. The question is whether it can be learned.

Some say writers either have it or they don’t, claiming “such things are instilled at birth.”


I say the secret is as simple as the Golden Rule.

Write the book you would read. Write it in a way that would keep your interest, and your book will find all the readers you want.

How to Use the Golden Rule of Addictive Writing

Ask yourself: What would keep me listening?

Among our best modern-day yarn spinners are comedians, and the key to a great joke is the build—that careful sequencing of elements leading to a satisfying payoff: the punch line.

The better the comedian/storyteller, the more strategically the anticipation is built. Make them wait, whether listener or reader, but be sure the payoff is more than worth the wait.

Treat your reader the way you would want to be treated. Never let up, never bore. Keep building, keep promising, and keep paying off.

Then, while each scene is promising and building and making them wait before paying off, your book as a whole should do the same on a grand scale.


…how I did this in my most successful novel, Left Behind, the first title in the series of the same name. That first book was released 20 years ago and recently reached more than 8.5 million copies sold.

I open the first chapter with my main character, a 747 pilot, flirting with the idea of cheating on his marriage with a flight attendant, justifying it in his mind because his wife has become so religious-sounding lately.

But before he and the object of his lust can even reach their destination, about a third of his passengers disappear right out of their clothes.

By the time this happens, I’ve established that he and his wife have a college-age daughter and an elementary school-age son, and that his wife has become obsessed with the idea of the prophesied rapture of the church—something he has ridiculed.

Until now.

Admittedly, that’s one big payoff, but notice that there are now many more automatic questions immediately posed. Is this the rapture, and if so…

  • Has it occurred universally?
  • Have other flights been similarly affected?
  • What will my pilot do to keep passengers calm with loved ones having disappeared?
  • What will it mean to the flight attendant that their potential fling has become instantly meaningless to the pilot?
  • Will he be able to land the plane?
  • Will he discover his wife has disappeared?
  • How about his daughter?
  • His son?
  • If his wife has been proven right, does he have another chance?

If you can create a scenario, the payoff of which instantly creates so many more setups that result in anticipated payoffs, you needn’t worry about interest flagging on the parts of your readers.

While you’re keeping track of the basics, like…

  • Introducing your main character quickly and plunging him into terrible trouble as soon as possible
  • Keeping your opening lean and avoiding introducing too large a cast of characters
  • Avoiding flashbacks and backstory and quickly getting to your chronological story

… remember the Golden Rule and write the story that would keep you turning the pages.

Create a scenario that builds tension.

Make them wait.

Then deliver a payoff that sets up another situation that starts the process all over again.

Do that enough times, and before you know it, you and your reader are hurtling toward a huge, satisfying conclusion and, who knows, maybe a bestseller.

What will you do this week to write a compelling book? Tell me in the Comments below.

Related Posts:

How to Write a Book: Everything You Need to Know in 20 Steps

How to Overcome Writer’s Block Once and For All: My Surprising Solution

How to Write a Short Story That Captivates Your Reader