The word page-turner describes a book that is so exciting or gripping that the reader feels compelled to keep reading. It seems that the connotation is more-or-less positive.

Is there a negative equivalent of this word? Doesn't have to be specific to books. I'm looking for a word that describes a piece of media that, although is compelling enough to keep its audience going, is otherwise of poor quality, or it uses questionable methods to achieve this compulsion, hurting its quality in the process. Some examples of said methods might be:

  • Stretching out a romance
  • Delaying the main plot by adding low-quality filler such as sub-plots
  • Contriving plot twists or crises for beloved characters
  • Using cheap tactics like cliffhangers, or

12 Answers 12


I think what you are looking for is a potboiler.

A potboiler or pot-boiler is a low-quality novel, play, opera, film, or other creative work whose main purpose was to pay for the creator's daily expenses—thus the imagery of "boil the pot", which means "to provide one's livelihood". Authors who create potboiler novels or screenplays are sometimes called hack writers or hacks. Novels deemed to be potboilers may also be called pulp fiction, and potboiler films may be called "popcorn movies."


Also there is a term specifically used for written work: dime novel.

In the modern age, "dime novel" has become a term to describe any quickly written, lurid potboiler and as such is generally used as a pejorative to describe a sensationalized yet superficial piece of written work.


  • 10
    Also "pulp", a "pulp novel" or "pulp fiction".
    – A E
    Nov 7, 2014 at 13:35
  • 2
    pulp or pulp fiction (if fiction) are definitely the main terms that come to mind for me. Per OED: > 2 [USUALLY AS MODIFIER] Popular or sensational writing that is generally regarded as being of poor quality
    – Patrick
    Nov 7, 2014 at 18:33
  • How about "shilling shocker"?
    – user72323
    Nov 8, 2014 at 6:51

I suppose the 19th century British equivalent of "dime novel" is "penny dreadful".

As Wikipedia says,

A penny dreadful (also called penny horrible, penny awful,[1] penny number, and penny blood[n 1]) was a type of British fiction publication in the 19th century that usually featured lurid serial stories appearing in parts over a number of weeks, each part costing one (old) penny. The term, however, soon came to encompass a variety of publications that featured cheap sensational fiction, such as story papers and booklet "libraries". The penny dreadfuls were printed on cheap pulp paper and were aimed at young working class males.

The penny dreadfuls were bought by men who couldn't really afford to purchase more up-market reading material, (eg, the works of Charles Dickens, which originally appeared in serialised form). These stories were cheap, and the paper was very low quality. Still, the penny dreadfuls made an impact on working-class culture, and some of their characters are still known today, the most famous probably being is Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber.

These stories were published before the advent of modern copyright laws. Publishers felt impelled to sell as many copies as possible in a short time period, knowing that if a story turned out to be a hit it wouldn't take long for a competitor to publish a plagiarised version, or even a direct copy. Thus there was no great incentive to produce works of high quality, but what they lacked in quality they more than made up for in sheer quantity.

  • If you could include a brief description it would strengthen your answer even more. Anyway, thanks for the link. The name itself sounds awful, not surprising, but it is definitely a derogatory term for cheap fiction.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 7, 2014 at 12:40

One word which came to mind was schlock

"of low quality or value"

And here

Something, such as merchandise or literature, that is inferior or shoddy.

This however may not convey your requirement of compelling enough to keep its audience going?


Doesn't have to be specific to books.

In the context of web media, there is the phenomenon of Clickbait which typically makes use of:

  • Catchy or attention-grabbing headlines
  • Misleading pictures
  • Pop-culture or trivia-themed articles
  • Multiple short pages of content interspersed with advertisement

These articles are intentionally designed to increase traffic to a website, whether for visibility or simply to achieve more advertisement banner impressions, thus revenue.

  • 1
    "Chick lit" is a term often applied to books, also sometimes referred to as "bodice rippers". Typically there is a shirtless man and a suggestively dressed woman on the cover.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 7, 2014 at 16:42

In the Sherlock Holmes story "THE BOSCOMBE VALLEY MYSTERY", Watson tries to kill some time by reading a yellow-backed novel, which I took to be a story of low quality.

“Then let us do so. Watson, I fear that you will find it very slow, but I shall only be away a couple of hours.”

I walked down to the station with them, and then wandered through the streets of the little town, finally returning to the hotel, where I lay upon the sofa and tried to interest myself in a yellow-backed novel. The puny plot of the story was so thin, however, when compared to the deep mystery through which we were groping, and I found my attention wander so continually from the action to the fact, that I at last flung it across the room and gave myself up entirely to a consideration of the events of the day.

Not a single word answer, but interesting nonetheless.

  • 1
    Of interest, maybe, is the fact that yellow novels are the basis for giallo.
    – SrJoven
    Nov 7, 2014 at 18:11
  • 1
    Wikipedia says that the term "yellowback" was also used for such novels, so it does count as a single word answer.
    – PM 2Ring
    Nov 8, 2014 at 3:31
  • @SrJoven I've only seen your link today. Now I know why Italian thrillers and mystery tales (literature & TV ) are called gialli (yellows). Thanks!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 12, 2014 at 4:54

pulp fiction

From wiktionary:


pulp fiction (uncountable)

  1. Fiction originally found in a pulp magazine.

...and wikpedia:

Pulp fiction may refer to:

  • Pulp magazines, short stories presented in a magazine format, printed on cheaply made wood-pulp paper

Pulp magazines (often referred to as "the pulps") are inexpensive fiction magazines that were published from 1896 through the 1950s. The term pulp derives from the cheap wood pulp paper on which the magazines were printed; in contrast, magazines printed on higher quality paper were called "glossies" or "slicks". The typical pulp magazine had 128 pages; it was 7 inches (18 cm) wide by 10 inches (25 cm) high, and 0.5 inches (1.3 cm) thick, with ragged, untrimmed edges.


I've heard "popcorn thriller" used.

Here's an example referencing a recent Le Carré spy novel -

Le Carré’s new novel is a popcorn thriller that defies expectations

[Washington Post]

  • If you can find where and add the quotation, this answer may be good. Nov 7, 2014 at 8:27
  • 1
    Is this a negative review? I hardly think so "This is popcorn reading — you can shovel buckets of it into your mouth as you turn the pages. .... In the case of “A Delicate Truth,” the rewarding choice is to follow le Carré down the labyrinthine corridors of a novel that beckons us beyond any and all expectations."
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 7, 2014 at 9:46

Does it really have to be a single-word? I can offer a suggestion which has two words. It doesn't specifically answer the question but it helps explains one of the devices that novelists, screen writers and playwrights often employ.

One of the tricks for keeping a reader engaged, even when the book is objectively speaking crappy, is called the Freytag's Pyramid.

Gustav Freytag, its creator, was a German novelist and playwright who developed his “theory” in 1863

enter image description here

Wikipedia explains

According to Freytag, a drama is divided into five parts, or acts, which some refer to as a dramatic arc: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement.

Although Freytag's analysis of dramatic structure is based on five-act plays, it can be applied (sometimes in a modified manner) to short stories and novels as well, making dramatic structure a literary element

Naturally, how well or effective this formula is in creating a page turner depends on the writer him/herself. If the writer is a skilful wordsmith, the story will flow effortlessly, in the hands of a less talented individual, the plot of the story may be the only reason why a reader persists in the venture, for the purpose of discovering the whodunit—aka who done it; or merely to find out how the story ends.

  • 1
    Interesting, now I know whom to find fault with!:)
    – user66974
    Nov 7, 2014 at 10:00

One time I heard someone use the phrase "dime store trash". Not exactly one word, but it gives a pretty accurate description.


I always call it a trashy novel


From the definitions I'd say the first is more suited, but you may find the other useful.

"pap" or "pablum" (aka pabulum)


1.1 Reading matter or entertainment that is worthless or lacking in substance.
‘limitless channels serving up an undemanding diet of pap’
Oxford Living Dictionaries

2.ideas, writings, or the like, lacking substance or real value.
Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary

2.Material lacking real value or substance:
TV shows that offer nothing but pap.
American Heritage Dictionary

If you describe something such as information, writing, or entertainment as pap, you mean that you consider it to be of no worth, value, or serious interest.
COBUILD Advanced English Dictionary

3.worthless or oversimplified ideas; drivel
intellectual pap
Collins English Dictionary


3:Bland or insipid intellectual fare, entertainment, etc.; pap.
Oxford Living Dictionaries

3 : something (such as writing or speech) that is insipid, simplistic, or bland
Merriam-Webster Dictionary (pabulum)

2.[p-] any oversimplified or tasteless writing, ideas, etc.
Webster’s New World College Dictionary

Examples of "pap" from Oxford Living Dictionaries:

‘Her conspicuous wealth, derived from the public demand for the pap she peddles, is further cause for resentment.’

‘I remember thinking the plot was sentimental, rubbishy pap.’

‘Such ingenuity and self-confidence should be applauded at a time when Hollywood churns out bland twentysomething pap at vast cost.’

The word "pap" often means media or art, whether literary or visual, which despite being trite or of bad quality, masses of people continue to consume. It would aptly describe the many TV shows, songs or books that people consume just because they're popularly available.


If it’s a (trashy, hot) romance it can be described as a ‘bodice ripper’.

‘O! But my lord! We really shouldn’t...’

As created, for example, by Dame Barbara Cartland, who wrote 700 saucy romances in her lifetime.

Her early works were racy, even shocking for the time; later she became shockingly straight-laced.

As it says on her website ‘A historical romance is the only kind of book where chastity really counts.’

Anyway, ‘bodice ripper’ - ‘a sexually explicit romantic novel or movie with a historical setting.’

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