Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Ask O: How Do I Keep Readers Flipping Pages? Part Two

Happy Wednesday, my writing friends!
Today’s question is Part 2 of How Do I Keep Readers Flipping Pages?

Last week we gleaned two awesome nuggets from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. How did C.S. Lewis hook those chapter endings? He ended them, first, at the height of a scene’s climax, and next, with a question. Check out two more insights I discovered in Narnia.

Good Old-Fashioned External Conflict
“You’re right, Mrs.Beaver,” said her husband. “We must all get away from here. There’s not a moment to lose.”

Okay, good night.

Yeah, right. I sure couldn’t go to sleep after reading a chapter ending like that. Do you remember this scene? The children are at the Beavers’ home when they realize Edmund is missing. They assume he’s betrayed them to the White Witch, and by their calculations she and her nasty wolves could be upon them any minute! Even reading it as an adult, my heart paces a bit. What will happen? How will they escape the seemingly all-powerful witch?

This is external conflict plopped, seamlessly, into the end of a chapter. Just when you were cozied up by the fire with the delightful beavers, something beyond the protagonists’ control forces them out of their warm cave. And if they don’t succeed, they’ll be turned into stone. The reader must turn the page. How could she not?

Cover Your Eyes
Sometimes the conflict churns internally—within the hero’s heart—even more than externally. After the Great Lion, Aslan is killed by the White Witch and her hellish brood, Lewis ends the chapter this way:

[The White Witch says,] “Understand that you have given me Narnia forever, you have lost your own life, and you have not saved his. In that knowledge, despair and die.”

The children did not see the actual moment of the killing. They couldn’t bear to look and had covered their eyes.

As readers, we know what happened to Aslan. We don’t have to turn the page to find out, but because we feel Lucy’s and Susan’s sorrow, we long to keep reading. Even though it’s sad and painful, we care about Lucy and Susan. We bravely move ahead.

Unresolved emotion is one of the most powerful tools a writer has. As compelling as the pursuit of the White Witch was, nothing’s more enticing than this pain. And it’s not just because we pity Lucy and Susan, it’s because we are Lucy and Susan. We’re experiencing their emotions along with them. How I remember loving Aslan as a young person, wanting him to be real (until I realized his name in our world)!

If I plunge my reader into each of my characters’ painful heartbeats, ending a chapter with an emotional whirlpool will surely keep her from the land of nod—no matter how determined she is to shut off her lamp.

So if you long for those lovely words, “I stayed up late finishing your book,” give Lewis’s strategies a try. But if you’re looking for a good night’s sleep, you might avoid those Narnia books.

Don't forget to leave your Ask O questions in the comments or on my website

Happy writing!


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