Musing Mysteries, Part 6

One more month before I get to see my Writing Sisters! One of my sisters just published her book with Createspace. I ordered mine, and can’t wait to read it. It’s gone through a few(!) revisions since I last read it.
The back door of my writing office opens. My Muse toes off his shoes, which are caked in about an inch of gooey mud.
“Hey, leave those things outside. Why didn’t you scrape them before you came in? Wait, where the hell did you find that much mud?”
He picks up his shoes, opens the door again, and drops them outside. “It’s almost official spring, love. Things are mucky until the frost goes out, which you well know.”
Tell me about it. You can hear the squishing and slurping as you walk across the soggy, pre-grass-revival ground. “Okay, but there’s supposed to be grass out there.”
“Sure, out there between the door and the lake.” He brushes a few spitballs of mud off his jeans. You know, the ones that always show up when you stomp through mud puddles. “The path into the woods, not so much.”
“Why were you in the woods? You know, Mae got over ten thousand words written after Mr. E got home from your pub crawl last week. Where’s my inspiration?”
He shoots me a glare. “Mae’s working on the second book in her new series, and she’s a pantser. You, love–” he stabs a finger at me–“are not. Have you gotten through that outline yet?”
Sigh. “No. I’m getting there, though.” I turn to the wall-sized white board and add the next entry from my list of subjects for my presentation (shameless plug: check out the UW-Madison Writers’ Institute). “Hey, this one is about research and writing what you know. I posted about this last year, so we can skip to the next one.”
My Muse takes a marker from the little shelf on the white board and adds to the list. “Cliffhangers.” He turns to me and frowns. “Really?”

cliffhanger

Cliff Hanger http://betweenthelions.wikia.com/wiki/Cliff_Hanger


“Yes, really. Though not in the sense of actually falling from a cliff.” I do remember watching the PBS series “Between the Lions” when the kids were little. They always had a short about Cliff Hanger. “More like an end-of-chapter hook to entice the reader to keep going.”
“I hope not at the end of every chapter, because that would get a little tiresome, don’t you think?”
“Well, no, not every chapter.” But a good portion of them. I’ve read many books that have multiple viewpoints. One chapter will stop just as something is about to happen to the viewpoint character. Then the next chapter is the viewpoint of a totally different character somewhere else. So I read through that chapter to get back to the other character.
It’s a very effective way to pull the reader through the story. Pretty soon you’re halfway through the book. The first book I read where I really stopped and thought about the story as a writer and what the author did to compel me to keep going was “Wizard’s First Rule“, by Terry Goodkind. I noticed every chapter led to the next one with some question in the reader’s mind about what would happen next. Not always big “will he skid off that hairpin curve” or “don’t answer the door” questions, but more “who left that note” or “who’s that woman” questions.
It’s those less dramatic questions, I think, that lure the reader forward best, because if you have a big “can he hold on much longer” question, where do you go? Either he loses his grip and falls, or someone shows up to help him. Then what? You can only ramp up the danger so much. Think of modern action films, especially super hero films, where huge sentient robots destroy big cities, or mutant humans tear up bridges and sports stadiums. Even daredevil┬ácar-racing thieves barely stop for coffee and donuts. Non-stop, computer-generated action. Sometimes it’s nice to watch a non-cerebral movie.
But it gets old fast. Whatever happened to the story? “Mysteries are kind of easy.”
“Easy?” My Muse snorts. “Yeah, that’s why you’re done with your outline and are halfway through your redraft.”
“No, I mean easy to have end-of-chapter questions. Thrillers and suspense, too.” Not that there aren’t end-of-chapter questions in any other genre–there are. I think that’s part of what makes a reader want to keep reading no matter the story. “Mysteries are puzzles, so the reader keeps going to find out whodunit. Thrillers are chases, so the reader wants to know if the hero can catch the bad guy before the bad guy gets him or kills the girl or whatever. Suspense is built on rising tension, so there’s always that anticipation of something bad happening before the main character figures things out.”
I turn to the other big white board in my office, the one with multi-colored stains and remnants of unidentified globs. “It’s the same thing we do when brainstorming. The whole ‘what happens if’ or ‘what will happen when’ approach. That’s how I figured out what was wrong with my story before.” Yeah, no thanks to my Muse.
“Hey, I heard that. And I helped. Why do you think you finally asked ‘what if’?” He jabs his finger into his chest. “That’s my job, love.” He points to my desk. “Now, butt in chair. Let’s finish this outline so you can start drafting. Again.”
Yeah. Again. I’m going to have to start from scratch. *shrug* Oh well. Better to start over and get the story most of the way there instead of finishing it, editing it, then figuring out I have to start over anyway.
Looking forward to a warm (50F) sunny day today–woo-hoo! I started my seeds a few weeks ago, so maybe next week I’ll post some pics. I soooo can’t wait for spring!
Happy Writing!

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