Keep those readers hanging

According to PsyBlog, experiments have shown that people are more likely to recall tasks they have begun but haven’t completed. The phenomenon is known as the Zeigarnik effect.

George Cruikshank - The Last ChanceNo matter how inconsequential the project, people are compelled by the idea of finishing it, as long as the anticipated result holds some sort of attraction. After the task is completed, it becomes more difficult to remember. Unfinished business keeps people slightly on edge.

Serialized novels of the 19th century, such as Charles Dickens’ The Adventures of Oliver Twist, kept readers in suspense when each installment ended with an unsolved question or mystery. The article in PsyBlog notes:

His cliffhangers created such anticipation in people’s minds that his American readership would wait at New York docks for the latest instalment to arrive by ship from Britain. They were that desperate to find out what happened next.

Writers can learn to create suspense. The techniques needn’t be clumsy or formulaic. By withholding unnecessary explanations and suppressing the desire to tell the reader what to think, a writer can evoke a bit more mystery. Red herrings and plot twists also can be used to keep readers engrossed.

Any story can be a page turner in the hands of a good writer who knows how to build intrigue.

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