I’m coming down on the last few scenes of my work-in-progress, A Sky without Stars. As much as I struggle to be sure the period details ring true (it’s set in 1951 Arizona), my bigger problem is in writing a satisfying ending to the story.
Writing Tip for Today: Writers often agonize over details, doing hours of research in order to get it right. But the bigger question should be: Am I driving the story forward, forcing the reader to keep reading? Here are some ways to keep your readers reading:
- Feet to the Flames. A novel does need short periods of relief, but overall you need to be sure that you keep the pressure on. In every scene, ask yourself what the problem is for your POV character. If you can’t name it, your character probably needs a bigger challenge. The idea of rising action becomes more and more intense up to the climax scene where your character is forced to act. Don’t let your character out of this crucible of problems until very near the end, and make sure your lead character solves the main problem herself.
- Chapter Endings. Pay attention to the way in which a chapter ends. Are the hero/heroine enjoying a relaxed moment? You may want to rewrite and end the chapter just before the character feels satisfied. Keep your reader questioning what will happen next.
- Action and Emotions. Steven King says the way to a reader’s heart is through the emotions. As long as you concentrate on providing action or movement with high emotion, your reader will be much more likely to remain engaged. Readers want these two elements more than any others. This may mean that you will limit long passages of description, dialogue with few consequences and that you watch for back story that takes the reader out of a scene (see the cold mashed potatoes rule).
Your Turn: What is the most difficult thing your character faces? Could you make the stakes higher? I’d love to hear from you.