In the Writing World, It’s Good to Be a Tease
Today’s Writing Challenge of the Week, as posted on Innovative Editing’s Facebook page, has to do with being a tease. Specifically teasing your big reveal or possibly your ending.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: Readers want you to play with their emotions to a certain degree. So if you make them guess and wonder and want to pull out their hair, frantically flipping pages to see what happens next, then you did a good job as an author and they’ll love you for it.
Does the girl realize she’s better off with boy #2 instead of boy #1, even though boy #1 seems like a dream come true?
Will the murderer turn out to be Zadok or Zenia?
Is the pot of gold really at the end of the rainbow or is it actually under the couch?
It’s those kinds of questions that can drive a reader to distraction – in a good way. And the more you tease the actual answer, the more your audience is going to follow your storyline like a cartoon character on cloud nine.
That’s why today’s Writing Challenge goes like this:
Give hints about the ending throughout your rising action.
If you’re a pantser, then you can keep this in mind for the second draft. For now, just keep writing along. If you’re a plotter though, you can consider this as early on as the outlining stage.
Use your rising action to tease your readers about the ending. Drop hints that make them think and wonder.
I just finished a fascinating read where the writer did exactly that, making me almost mad to know the ending.
It was a murder-mystery whodunit kind of story, where readers find out in chapter 2 that a murder took place at an elementary school’s parents-night party. But we don’t get to know the victim’s identity or why he or she was killed until maybe the third-to-last chapter.
In between, the book (or audiobook, in my case) contains all these little snippet scenes with people making statements to the police. Some characters explain that they didn’t actually see the murder happen, but that they did hear how Mrs. X, Mrs. Y and Ms. Z were all thick as thieves before that.
Another might counter that it had nothing to do with Mrs. X and Y, and Ms. Z; they were just friends. And yet a third would make a vague comment about Mr. N, or the new diet she’s on or how catty women can be.
Then the story would flip to a real chapter with real protagonists.
At first, those statements were more amusing than anything else. Obviously the result of gossip and hearsay and personal opinions, I didn’t put much stock in them. But as the story progressed and I learned more about the characters involved, the remarks became more and more intriguing. They were clues to latch onto or discard, each one teasing me toward or away from a potential murder victim and murderer.
The resulting effect was that I ceased being a mere reader and became part of the police investigation instead, which was really cool.
Then, about half or two-thirds of the way through the audiobook, I decided I’d figured it out. I knew who had died and why and at who’s hands!
Except, of course, that I didn’t know. I was guessing. I had formed my hypothesis based on facts and logical inferences, but it was still just a guess. There were still chapters and chapters and chapters to go until I could really find out.
That. Drove. Me. Nuts.
Like absolutely, completely and totally insane. All of a sudden, I didn’t care about work. I didn’t care about sleep. I didn’t care about talking to anyone. The one thing I cared about was finding time to finish listening to this story to see if I was right or wrong!
The book and its author had me hooked. So I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that if the house had caught fire and I could only save one item, I would grab my phone – just so I could finish that audiobook.
In the end, I was right about the murder victim’s identity. And I was right about why he was killed. But I didn’t call it correctly when it came to whodunit.
That two-thirds bragging right isn’t the point though.
The point is that the author teased me into a state of near-obsession. She dropped hints about what was to come so that it wasn’t just my creative side being engaged by a good story, but also my intellectual curiosity.
As a result of that writing, I was all hers. And I will be very happy to buy another one of her books, audio or not.