Thursday, May 1, 2008

Too Much Suspense Makes for One Confused Reader

So I'm reading this book. The book reading, in itself, isn't a big deal. I also am in love with this book, if only because the author is one of my favorites.

But there is a problem.

Every. Single. Chapter. Ends. With. A. Cliffhanger.

It's like reading a page-long paper with every word as its own sentence. Did I mention the chapters are about three pages long? No? Well, the chapters are about three pages long. Every three pages the author decides to throw in a cliffhanger. Thusly, I have no frikking idea of what's going on in the book.

Okay, so that last statement was a lie. I understand the plot. I know the characters very well. The problem is, I can't tell which moments are supposed to be important. Then, when the author switches viewpoints between chapters, I find myself rushing through, missing important things, and then rushing back.

It's very frustrating.

On the other hand, I understand how challenging it is to write a page-turner. In the author's previous books, a smattering of cliffhangers and three-page chapters was very effective at pulling me through the story. I'm wondering if it's the constant bombardment of OMG moments that is making this book so tiring.

So I have a question to pose for you all: How do you allocate the time for suspense in your novel versus the time for... um... non-suspense? Do you have any preference for suspense in the novels you read? Any particular kind of suspense you prefer?

Discuss.

8 comments:

SuzanneYoung said...

You have the best posts, Soph! Even if there is no sex in them. haha.

Suspense. Hm. I don't plot out my books, but I like to keep them fast moving. I hate getting bogged down by description. But I would find it an overkill to have a cliffhanger EVERY chapter. I'm also not a huge fan of ultra-short chapters. It breaks my concentration.

In conclusion, suspense is great to move a story along, but it shouldn't be in place of the story, if that makes sense!

althrasher said...

Awesome post, Sophie!

I actually don't use a lot of suspense up until close to the end of the novel. (Probably not a good thing...) I just try to keep the pacing pretty fast, and not get bogged down in any one thing. I do the same thing you do--rushing ahead an missing things, that is.

I think the suspense in Wicked Lovely and Looking for Alaska is very good.

courtney said...

Were you reading a Goosebumps novel?

Cause RL Stine is all over that Cliffhanger stuff. :)

Sophie W. said...

No, it wasn't a Goosebump novel. It's a series I'm quite fond of. I was actually hoping to gush about this author on the blog, but I guess not.

Catherine said...

The thing is, ending on a note that nmakes you want to turn the page doesn't mean ending on a cliffhanger.

I think cliffhangers have more impact if they're pretty sparingly used. I'm all with Donald Maass's thing about having tension on every page, and tension not = to a great big screaming match or your Intrepid Hero about to be eaten by genetically mutated sea bass with frikken lasers...yanno?

Tension can also be present in small ways, subtle indicators that things are about to get a shake up.

That's what keeps people reading.

Sophie W. said...

Catherine - Yes. I really felt like the author had decided to cop out on me. It was sad.

However, my mutant sea bass and I are not amused with your derogatory comments. Harold P. Vincent is a well-adjusted member of society and hardly ever goes after anyone with his lazercannons anymore...

Crystal Liechty said...

The books I like best have a great cliffhanger in the beginning, one or two in the middle and then a big one at the end. Every chapter would be exhausting!
The best cliffhangers, imo, are from Dean Koontz. I'm flipping through every page going WTF!?!

Creative A said...

Hey guys. I know I'm not exactly part of your blog, but I write a lot of thrillers/action-adventures, and I was intrigued by the post :)

I tend to write by feel. I use a lot of action/suspense, but in short cycles. I'll have a moment of action, followed by a "catch-our-breathe, what-just-happened-here?" moment, followed by more action. One cycle.

After a chapter or two of this, my MC dodges the conflict and enters a type of downtime. This sort of comes naturally...the MC needs time to think, to deal with whatever has just happened. After a little bit he realizes what he needs to do next. He goes to do it. More action: another cycle starts.

That's how I handle it. If things start to get too frantic, I give my MC a moment to breathe. I think a string of action can get meaningless if you don't get a chance to process it.