Keeping readers in suspense

A diabolical six month experiment came to a close last week with several bangs from an antique cannon, hissing plasma bolts, assorted sonic booms, a few deaths, a hint of aliens, a murder solved, some HEA and a lot of very happy readers. Read on for background, links and info on what’s next.

I never expected to become a writer of serials – it seemed positively Dickensian. Then just before Christmas 2016, I wrote a scene set in a church on Christmas’ Eve’s eve. I had no intention of doing any more. The scene was in the world of my main Urban Fantasy series, Bite Back, and it referred to things that were going on in the series, but my purpose was simply (1) to give the people who follow me on Facebook and my blog a sort of Christmas present and (2) to experiment with writing styles.

I got a lot of requests to continue with the ‘story’, and after some thought, I realized that there was potential for a novella, based on some ideas I’d had visiting New York earlier that year. And so, over the next 3 months, I wrote and published the novella, Change of Regime , working entirely at weekends and keeping weekdays for progress with my main series.

Of course, no sooner had I finished than I got “what’s next?” messages. So, I put up a list of vague ideas for experiments and exercises in writing and the voting came down to ‘Science Fiction Adventure Romance’.

A couple of weeks later, I put up the first episode of ‘A Name Among The Stars’.

I set out to write a novel of approximate 100k words rather than a novella, to only work at weekends, to post an episode a week (~2 chapters, 3-4k words), and to use a style very different from my main series.

So, how to retain readers over a six month project?

Cliffhangers! Every episode has to leave the poor reader desperately wanting the next episode. See comment list below (thanks to all for their comments).

No! What a place to stop!!! I want more!
How does she get out of this?
OMG, the story is fantastic and I want MORE!
Your cliffhangers are becoming more and more diabolical.
Verbal conflict between Zara and Shohwa just right.
I await the next chapters with bated breath.
Way to keep the cliffhangers coming! I hate you!
Hard to know it’ll be another week before I can read on.
I enjoyed the tea ceremony. Very well done.
Better and better!
Gaaah! No, don’t stop there!
Really liking the fiesty heroine.
Can hardly wait for the next installment.
You have me hooked.
Wow, what a great beginning.
Evil author does NOT feel our pain.

And, worst of all, I stopped the episodes just as the denouement was beginning, and readers had to go and purchase the $2.99 novel on Amazon to complete the story.  A Name Among The Stars

My readers all hate me. 🙂

It’s been enormous fun (for me anyway), and the question has now come back…’what’s next?’

I think the next will be a short novel. I also think I’m better at action cliffhangers, so the genre will reflect that. I have an experimental piece started and I might as well go on with that. It’s Dark Urban Fantasy. I mean it.

Your heart will race.
You will experience shortness of breath.
You will not know who to trust.

Working title: The Hitchhiker.

For some technical reasons (better setup for serialization) and also greater potential readership, these episodes will be released on WattPad or Radish (or both) as well as here on my blog.

Make a comment below or email me using the contact email address on the blog here to ensure you’re on the list for an alert when I start this next project.

Work on Bian’s Tale book 1 and Bite Back book 6 continues.

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About Mark Henwick

I was born in Africa and left out in the sun too often. An early interest in philosophy and psychology was adequately exorcised by tending bars. And while trying to enroll in a class to read Science Fiction full time, I ended up taking an engineering degree which splendidly qualified me to move into marketing. That in turn spawned a late onset career in creative writing. When not working, I get high by the slightly less conventional means of a small light aircraft. My first books are available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Mark-Henwick/e/B008SBO5YK/

20 responses to “Keeping readers in suspense”

  1. Ric says :

    Please complete Biteback 6 before starting other new projects, then Bian which was advertised as coming ages ago.

  2. Dee DenBleyker says :

    As always, I am eager to read anything you write. I think I even mentioned to you once….soup labels :), so keep the words flowing.

  3. wiggiemomsi says :

    No, not ALL of your readers hate you, silly author! Some of us are just, umm, “annoyed” at your cruel, evil, diabolical treatment of your plucky heroines! And don’t get me started on those wicked, wicked, cliffhangers!

    So, umm … MORE, please? 😋

  4. Vernon Caudle says :

    I like this. I looked forward every week to see where the story was going. MORE!!!

  5. amper5andrew says :

    Sign me up for the notification, please.

  6. John says :

    Zara’s tale was great fun, thanks Mark. I really enjoyed the serial format

  7. Pyo says :

    Cliffhangers for serials are one thing, I think, it’s entirely different to end a full-length novel with a cliffhanger.

    But even there I can live with it if it seems warranted. I won’t like it – it’ll never feel entirely justified to me. Just write a longer book. There, I said it. But I can live with it.

    Unfortunately, too often it feels incredibly artificial or just … well, not even really a cliffhanger, just stopping in the middle of the tale. And that I can’t stand at all.

    • Mark Henwick says :

      What about a full-length novel that’s part of a series?

      I got a lot of stick for the ending of Cool Hand…

      • Pyo says :

        Um, now don’t hold me to that definition, but if it’s not part of a series, I’d say it’s not a cliffhanger, but an open-end of some type.

        I’d say Western readers are, err, indoctrinated so to speak against those. Western stories are supposed to do the entire introduction -> middle part -> end sort of thing, and the end is supposed to wrap things up. Then there’s some theories on how the tension is supposed to develop, and then we all watch Hollywood movies who have to have everything neatly wrapped up with a Hollywood end …

        But I enjoy for example Japanese novels quite a lot and open-ends there are basically just normal. I won’t pretend I prefer them, but they don’t bother me if they are well done (hello Mr Murakami). Good open ends get the reader to imagine scenarios, hint enough at things to feel conclusive without defining every little detail and so on.

        For Cool Hands – tough call as I think I was lucky to start reading the series right around when Angel Stakes came out. So I didn’t have to actually wait 😉
        But checking the end again – I don’t think that would have bothered me too much. The immediate situation is resolved. That Amber is “in a state” is not so much an issue since, well, it’s _her_ series. We know she’s going to wake up again and things will continue. More of a transition than a cliffhanger, I think. That should be allowed within a series.

        Now going on about how very hypothetically I think series are best connected is essentially by writing each novel in the classic self-contained way (then the author has to decide how much info to provide for new readers – I honestly don’t have an opinion on that. Personally I just don’t start reading things in the middle ^^; ), and connecting them not so much “end book 1 -> beginning book 2” (chronologically that’s of course the way it’ll be) but by some minor point that’s inserted somewhere in the middle of the previous novel in a way that’ll make the reader take note of it, but without clobbering the reader over the head with it (“look at this HINT! *bam*). If then the next novel starts and the reader can be all “oooh, that’s that detail from the previous novel! If only I had realized!” then you’ve done a great job.

        I think your series cover this pretty well. There’s always so much going on in your novels that stuff connects in various ways. It helps make things seem less “monster of the week” format. The one novel where I felt it wasn’t done so neatly was the third one. Noble really should have been introduced earlier, maybe even mention an increase in animal attacks or whatever, but, eh. Just my take anyway.

        • Mark Henwick says :

          Thank you – a very interesting analysis.

          Your reasoning for the ending of Cool Hand is exactly how I intended it to be taken. If I’d been able to follow up with Angel Stakes in six months, I guess that would have cut the number of complaints a lot. 🙂

          SPOILERS FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN’T READ WILD CARD…

          Wild Card was not a well designed novel. I had too many series threads requiring scenes to move them forward a notch, and I spent too little time on the central plot. I then took on a difficult writing problem (the ambiguity of the villain) with perhaps an excess of confidence and a lack of ability. If I was going to write them again now, it would be two books. At the end of the first you’d regard Nobel as one of the good guys, and in the next book, you would be unsure about him until the scene in his office during the storm. One of the things that stopped me doing this at the time was that it would spread Amber’s internal state (her gradual fall into rogue that is precipitated in Cool Hand) over yet another book. That felt too many.

          Anyway, I hope that readers will feel at the end of the series that I have wrapped the series arc up neatly, and that in most books, I have wrapped up the issues & arc of that book neatly.

          Thanks for the comments, I am always very happy to discuss the plots and the writing methods & hear readers’ opinions.

  8. XK says :

    As usual, due to my near-terminal case of impatience, I waited to read the novel until it was complete.

    I thought it was excellent, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise. What did surprise me was that, despite serials being a very different beast than a standard novel (due to the need to at the least add a hook to the end of each installment), the finished version didn’t necessarily feel like a serial at all.

    I suspect some of that was just you polishing the entire manuscript up and insuring that it flowed well from segment to segment (in addition to within an individual segment)? Regardless, very entertaining, and some new characters I wouldn’t at all object to spending more time with in the future.

    Well done!

    • Mark Henwick says :

      Thanks Xsikal!

      There was less polishing than I originally intended. I thought I would fill out character descriptions and I didn’t in the end. When I went in and tried it, I found the ‘sparseness’ of the narrative had it’s own feel and it would unbalance it for me to start my usual diversions. I did put a little foreshadowing in, but due to the time constraints, not quite enough. I wanted a more visceral response to the ‘horror’ Zara feels at being jacked, to make her decision to allow Hwa in that much bigger. I also should have put in at least another step or maybe two in the ‘romance’ part of the story.

      I always feel ‘I could have done that better’ after publishing!

      Nevertheless, I’m delighted you enjoyed it. I also enjoyed the different constraints of writing a serial at weekends and I am looking at a shorter and very much darker Urban Fantasy serial in the near future, but Bian’s Tale must get priority.

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