She applied the Page 69 Test and the Page 99 Test to her latest novel, Doubleback, and reported the following:
OK. I confess.Read an excerpt from Doubleback and watch the video trailer.
I’m cheating. I’m using both Page 69 and Page 99 for this exercise. But I have a good excuse. You see, my new crime fiction novel, Doubleback, has two protagonists, and the story shifts from Georgia Davis’s point of view to Ellie Foreman’s. Luckily, Page 69 is in Georgia’s voice, and page 99 is Ellie’s, so you’ll get a taste of both of them.
Both pages are also the end of chapters, another coincidence that happens to illustrate a solid technique of building suspense. Suspense is a key ingredient in my writing. In fact, I teach workshops on it.
One way to ratchet up suspense is to incorporate a cliff-hanger at end of a chapter… some plot or character development that makes it impossible for the reader to put the book down. Page 69 is a good example. Georgia and her neighbor, Pete, are talking about her case.
“A hunch is just wishful thinking unless the evidence is there.”
She twirled her swizzle stick. Enough about Christine Messenger.
“Hey, you ever hear of a dating service called More-than-Friends?”
Pete shook his head.
She was about to tell him when the news on the TV above the bar came on. When she heard the top story, she gasped.
A word of caution: it’s not smart to use a cliff-hanger too often -- it can become redundant and trite. Some chapters should end quietly, thoughtfully, perhaps giving readers more insight into a character. That’s what I tried on Page 99. Ellie has been flirting with a man half her age in order to extract information from him. She’s successful, but then the man takes her up on her come-on. Ellie has to extricate herself gracefully.
I stammered, flustered. “Um … uh … Cody, that’s really flattering, … but I’m old enough to be your mother.”
His expression said the idea had already occurred to him and he was okay with it.
I felt heat on my cheeks. “But I’ll tell you what. You just made my day.”
He shot me a look that was both longing and reproachful. I didn’t know if his distress was because he couldn’t use his coupons, or if he was truly saddened by my answer. In any case, I melted.
“Tell you what. Give me your card. You just never know.”
That was the truth, too.
Two pages, two voices, two chapter endings. Very different, and yet – hopefully -- mindful of suspenseful techniques.
Visit Libby Fischer Hellmann's website and group blog, The Outfit.