So I was going to post this a while back, but I was having some technical difficulties with the website and then I ended up catching some coldfludeathebolagermicitus. I think I have it all sorted out now though, and I’m feeling better, so on to the next article!
Three things that add suspense and keep your readers’ interest piqued are (as I’m sure you were keyed into by the title) are cliffhangers, plot twists, and fight scenes. But these things can be a little tricky. So let’s start with cliffhangers.
Cliffhangers are classic. Whether it be at the end of a chapter or the end of the book to entice your readers to continue reading, it’s the trademark of a lot of famous authors like Rick Riordan and James Dashner. But the problem with cliffhangers is they can often be more annoying than suspenseful. Readers aren’t dumb; they know the difference between a suspenseful, dramatic cliffhanger intended to keep you on the edge of your seat and a random cliffhanger thrown in to keep you reading the series.
What makes a good cliffhanger?
The making of a good cliffhanger requires a few things. Firstly, it needs drama. There needs to be a build up. Some sort of small climax–or maybe even a big climax–that builds into the cliffhanger. A climax naturally calls for a resolution, so when there isn’t one, it creates a tension that drives the readers on.
A good cliffhanger also needs a purpose, a direction. It can’t just be because you don’t really know how to end your novel. It has to connect to something else. The whole point of a cliffhanger is that it isn’t the ending; the story continues into the next book, or chapter, or whatever. It’s a pause. But at some point it has to play again and that should be a part of the grand scheme.
Finally, a good cliffhanger needs to, well…leave you hanging. Too often I see cliffhangers that just drag on for too long. It’s called a cliffhanger for a reason. It’s supposed to be swift and over. Another pet peeve of mine about cliffhangers is when the ending is obvious. Cliffhangers are supposed to leave you wondering. It’s only intriguing if it’s surprising and if you have no idea what’s coming next.
And you kind of have to have all of these things together. Sure you can leave someone hanging, but without the build up it’s stupid. Without the buildup, it’s too anticlimactic and they don’t care.
Plot twists also need a build up, but a very different kind of build up. For a plot twist you almost need to lead your readers in the opposite direction of the real truth…all while simultaneously dropping clues about the actuality. It’s almost like lulling your readers into a false sense of security. You want them to make their own conclusions, but you want to lead them to the conclusion that shock them the most when they find out it’s wrong.
Did that even make any sense? Probably not.
Anyway, there are actually lots of ways to add a plot twist and lots of different styles of twists so it makes it a little hard for me to go into how to do it correctly.
But I guess one of my biggest annoyances with plot twists is when they’re so obvious. It’s not a plot twist if you already know exactly what’s going to happen. So you must have a decoy, but at the same time it can’t be too suspicious.
In murder mystery novels there’s usually quite a few suspects that it could be. That’s because if there was one perfect suspect, it’d be a little too good to be true.
The thing about fight scenes is they can be very confusing. There’s so much action going on already, and then often you’re tasked with creating the scene, describing the sensations, sounds, etc. I find that sometimes even with famous, professional authors fight scenes leave me saying, “Huh?”, and rereading the paragraph or two a couple of times. I think the key to making sure this doesn’t happen is A) concise wording, and B) knowing the proper order to write things.
Concise wording being that you’re not only very specific with your writing, but also very short. A common writing rule is to not say in twenty words what you can in four. I feel this especially applies with action scenes. There’s already a lot going on; don’t make it more convoluted than it needs to be.
Action scenes are intense, but usually short. They burn bright, but quickly. And that’s usually because there’s just so much going on.
Knowing the proper order to write things isn’t quite as straightforward. I guess what I mean is if you’re describing a scene between two men in a fist fight and one picks up a torch you might wait to describe the smoldering of the flames until after the action itself.
Once again: does that make any sense…? Probably not.
I’m one to talk about concise writing….
I think I’ll end it while I’m ahead.
Thanks for reading! Sorry I missed like a week of my Blogathon.
Julia E. Flowers
PS — Congrats on making it over halfway through NaNo! Keep up the good work!