Leave them hanging? Or throw them a line?

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Growing up, I was a rabid fan of Nancy Drew. Oooh how I wished to be a mystery solving red head with cool friends and a hot supportive boyfriend.  I would devour those stories in a matter of hours and be begging my folks to take me to the store to spend the rest of my allowance on the next couple of books in the series.

Know what really kept me plowing through them so quickly? It was the cliffhangers. Nancy and her friends were always getting themselves into troublesome situations and the end of each chapter would leave you dangling over the  edge of the cliff, clinging only to hope. Would they make it? Were they going to get caught? Would the bad guy realize it was really Ned in disguise? I *HAD* to know! It didn’t matter if it was past my bedtime and I was reading under the blankets with a flashlight, knowing the alarm would go off in four short hours. I could not put that book down and risk the possibility that they wouldn’t make it through. I couldn’t sleep without knowing that Nancy and her friends were safe. The only solution was to keep reading until the book ended and I could breath that sigh of relief.

When I started really writing my own stories, I often thought back to the things that prompted me to be a voracious reader.  The cliffhanger was at the top of the list. That building of suspense forced me to keep going until I finished the book.  I want my readers to have the same experience. I want people to tell me “I had to know if so and so was going to die/get kissed/shoot the bad guy/etc.” For someone to tell me they couldn’t put my book down would be the biggest compliment. I’m holding out hope to hear it someday!

As I’ve gotten more into my writing, I find it’s not always an easy thing to do, end every chapter on such a suspenseful note. Sometimes it leads me to think my character has the worst luck ever and that no one can possibly have that many things happen to them in such a short period of time. I’ve learned to balance it a little better. Not every chapter break is a life or death situation. It can end on a question, or a strong statement.  It can be an impending kiss or the crack of a palm against someone’s cheek. More often than not, I can make it something to leave the reader wanting more, and honestly, what author doesn’t want that for their reader? It’s how we get repeat business and how we can create a buzz among fans as they speculate what will happen next. It’s an important tool of story telling, even if it is a little sadistic.

What kind of author are you? One who tortures your readers or one who cuts them a break and allows them the chance to step away from the story?

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6 responses »

  1. I was thinking cliffhangers when I woke up and how on your clown story and others I know who put chapters of stories up online it's important to end each chapter with a cliffhanger. The reader doesn't have the whole story so you have to dangle something to make sure they come back to finish.

    As for my stories, I don't end every chapter with a cliffhanger but I do have moments where I leave the reader dangling. (If I'm swapping chapters – usually w/ Chris – I find a cliffhanger moment to send. I think I'm a little evil like that.)

  2. We're not evil, we just like to excite our readers!

    I know you have trouble sleeping not know what's going to happen next in Tears of a Clown! 😀

  3. I definitely like cliffhangers. I don't end every chapter with one, though there may be questions left unanswered from previous chapters that keep the readers reading.

    And what Patty said… I like to find cliffhanger moments to end on when I send her some of my work. :p

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