It’s hard saying goodbye to a 30-year-old friendship. Emotions run the gamut—sadness (moist eyes, a lone tear escaping onto the cheek), regret and disappointment (the I shoulda’s), anxiety (what will I do without the comfort they give?), anger (face heating up, hands trembling), and a heart-sinking melancholy.
Emotions are what drive people to act and think the way they do. You know this from your own life, and the emotional stability (or instability) should be apparent in your characters as well.
Yesterday we sold our 1971 VW pop-top camper, and lost a dear friend.
The first two paragraphs “seemed” to indicate the lost friendship dealt with a person, but instead, the emotions rattling through my wife and I related to a vehicle we owned and enjoyed while raising our children; as my wife pointed out, “We’ve owned the bus over half my life.”
Mystery and surprise within fiction keeps the reader turning the pages, all-important ingredients we must not forget—make the reader wonder, then shock them.
Emotions are real regardless of their source, and the same is true of your characters: an heirloom conjures happy memories of a grandparent, or a Purple Heart reminds an ex-soldier of friends who died on the battlefield.
Emotions are strong motivators, and every character needs a believable reason why they do the things they do.
The mystery of why and how a character acts—along with appropriate plot twists—fuels a reader’s interest as you dole out bits and pieces during the pages and chapters of your story. Why did they do that? What will happen next? How will they solve the problem? These questions and others should be imparted in small doses to the reader throughout the story.
Think of a TV drama; the lead character is faced with a dangerous situation, an event that jeopardizes their life or the life of a loved one—fade to commercial. This is known as a cliff-hanger, and within literature, is best used occasionally, and normally at the end of a chapter.
The reader sucks a breath, glances at the clock, realizing they need to get to bed, and turns the page to see what happens next. You have accomplished your job as a writer—kept the reader wondering, fearing, and hoping as you disrupt their sleep.
Keep your story mysterious and thrill the reader with surprises of unexpected outcomes to life threatening events.
I have been fortunate to have eight beta readers for my novel, The Returning; each has been valuable at showing what does and does not work in the story. Four of my readers were given only the first two chapters where my initial cliff-hanger took place following a monumental surprise for my protagonist.
Something crashed against the back of his head–blackness.
The response was unanimous: each of the four readers berated me (gently and with good humor) with comments like, “How dare you leave me hanging like that!”
Perfect—just what I wanted.
Keeping the reader on edge, wondering what will happen next, and then fulfilling their anticipation with an undreamed of resolution entices readers to the next page. Isn’t that the point?
Now go write your story, adding foreshadowing hints along the way, and then knock the readers from their comfort zone.
See You on the Next Page,
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