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Always Leave 'Em Hanging...



If you think about what keeps you intrigued with a story, a big part of it is the hooks. To open a story, a good hook is needed to grab that audience right up front and to keep them wanting more. In my short experience, I have tried a few different versions of my novel when sending it out to agents. So far, none of the openings I have created has grabbed any of them to the point that they want to see more. Never say die!


Just recently, I came up with a new beginning, one I think will change that and possibly land me a request for more. I have always known the kind of opening I wanted for the book but never could quite figure it out. I did not want to give away one of the big twists of the book but I needed to hint to what the story was about, without revealing too much. I think I nailed it but will find out soon enough as I will be submitting it to another group of agents to see how this one works. I really hope I’m on to something here.

So, this new beginning will lead the reader on, pose a few intriguing questions, hint at something incredible without revealing that something, and then make a bold statement about the main plot point. I find in my reading of novels that I love when I am given that kind of information, just enough to make my mouth water and thirst for more. To leave me hanging, giving just enough to pique my curiosity without fulfilling that desire to learn what I really want to know. It drives me forward, not wanting to put down the book until I find out what twist or plot turn was hinted at without reveal.

As you know, this needs to happen throughout the story you’re telling, not just once at the beginning.


It doesn’t have to be something that changes the story or plot, it can be small but something that leaves the reader wanting to know NOW what’s gonna happen. And I don’t think this is at all necessary to do at the end of every chapter but I try to do this on quite a few of my chapter endings. The following chapter normally covers a secondary plotline before the reader can get back to the plotline that will provide the reveal of the last cliffhanger. I love that myself when reading a book and try to replicate that style and format within my own stories.

This kind of thing happens often with television series. At the season-ender, many times there will be a major plot twist, something dramatic to end the season. Now you must wait, sometimes for almost 2 years (Game of Thrones), to find out what happens! I think there can be a danger in making your audience waiting too long but that’s not something you have to worry about with a novel. The reveal is usually a chapter or two ahead, not years down the road. With television being a whole different medium, it’s one way to keep the watcher yearning to find out what’s gonna happen to their favorite characters. And it works. I know it does for me. I stuck with Game of Thrones even though it took forever for that last season to be aired from the previous (only to be disappointed by the rushed ending to the series).


Now, if you end your novel on a cliffhanger because you know there will be a sequel written, that will create that same feeling for the reader. I have not put a big cliff hanger at the end of any of my novels that will have sequels. I may end them somewhat open-ended, with no definitive ending but leaving it open for the next part of the story. If that sequel is never written, the ending of the original will work fine as it stands.


Figure out what pulls you into a story, what keeps you chugging along through a novel, wanting to pick it back up. I think most of us love to be left hanging temporarily, knowing the payoff is a mere chapter or two ahead. I love to come up with ways to end chapters that leave the reader guessing, wondering, and becoming more invested in the story. It’s fun and keeps the brain working overtime, trying to figure out what’s going to happen.


Of course, try not to be predictable when you leave the reader hanging. That’s not so much fun when they figure out what’s going to happen. Come up with good twists, something your reader would never see coming but that still makes sense to the story. When you can make your reader feel as if they never saw the reveal coming, that’s a nice win for the reader as well as the author.

Happy reading, happy writing!


Doug

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