One of the biggest challenges an author faces is balancing the fact that they already know how the book is going to end with keeping their readers on the edge of their seats. Too much too soon and you could lose their interest; too little too late and you get the same result.
Embedding red herrings is a good technique, but too many can generate frustration. It really is a balancing act. You should strive to reveal just enough to make the reader turn the page. So, how do you do this effectively? In this post, I’ll do my best to explain my personal approach.
First of all, you should try to build up to your ending. Like the crescendo of a symphony, every element builds upon the next until the final notes shake the audience with emotion. Personally, I think this is true whether you are writing a romance novel or a science-fiction thriller. There is no better feeling than being surprised at the end, provided the surprise makes sense.
Here are a few methods for accomplishing that goal:
1. Envision your ending before you start writing.
If you don’t know where your book is going to end, you’re going to have one hell of a time leading your readers to the conclusion. Know where you are going and at least have a rudimentary idea of how you are going to get there.
2. Use red herrings sparingly and intelligently.
If it makes sense to offer alternative conclusions, mix that in with your writing. A note of caution here is they must be realistic options that can easily be explained when the climax arrives.
3. Pace your story carefully.
There is no need to start off by revealing the entire idea of what is happening. In fact, that would make for very poor storytelling. Instead, let your readers meet and get to know your characters before delving into the conflict(s) that will eventually arise.
4. Leave a few cliffhangers.
Ending a chapter with unanswered questions can be a good way to keep readers engaged. Naturally, we want to know how things are going to resolve, so we turn to the next page to find out.
5. Be honest and realistic!
In my opinion, this is the most important factor in writing a good book. If you write a hundred thousand words about a woman who is struggling to make it in the world and end it with her winning the lottery, it will be dead in the water. As readers, we want to be able to relate to the characters and see the possibility that “this could happen.”
As with developing any skill in life, learning to create engaging and dynamic plots takes time and repetition. The more you write, the better you’ll get.
Below, I’ve included a few links that might help you on honing your plot development skills.