Don’t Keep Me Hanging Too Long! by Sherrie Hansen

In the little town of Saint Ansgar, Iowa, where I’ve lived for 20 years, a conscientious Christian has posted a sign on the way into town that announces “The wages of sin is death.” Not exactly the greeting you might expect…

 

On the back of the sign, which you can’t possibly see until you leave town (unless you can spin your head around and drive at the same time – I can’t), is the rest of the story:  “But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ Our Lord.”

 

The Bible verse (Romans 3:23) is one of my favorites. When read in its entirety, it has a beautiful message. But I hate the way the sign leaves me dangling. What if I don’t leave town for several days, two weeks, or a month? What if I leave town by a different route? What if it’s dark? I might never get to the good part. I might never know the rest of the story.

 

As a reader – of signs and books, I don’t like to be kept waiting too long. If the beginning of a book is too depressing or slow-paced, I might not keep reading long enough to get to the good part. If a climax builds too slowly or drags on for too long, I might stop caring before I get there. If a book contains too many cliff hangers, I’m going to be very frustrated, especially if I have to wait a year or two to finally find out what happens. Even in a series where each book comes to a complete end, with the next installment starting up with a new character or generation of the same family, I don’t like to be kept waiting too long. I forget pertinent details, names and relationships and connections between characters.

 

And what about those books that have multiple story lines about several different characters and so many sub-plots going all at once that by the time you get six chapters down the road and are finally taken back to the main storyline, you can’t even remember what was going on? Next time I pick one of them up, I’m going to read Chapters 1, 5, 9, 13, 17 and 21, then go back and hit Chapters 2, 6, 10, 14, 18, and 22… and so on. It’ll be much less irritating.

 

Am I the only one who gets impatient if I’m left dangling too long?

The third and final book in my Maple Valley Trilogy, Merry Go Round, was released about a month ago, and it’s been surprising to me how many people have bought all three books at once. “We’ve been waiting until the trilogy was complete”, they’ve claimed. “We hate having to wait between books, so we don’t even start a series until we can read the whole thing from start to finish.”

 

I wrote as fast as I could when I was working on Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round, knowing that those who had started the series were clamoring for the next in line. My publisher worked with me as much as possible to get each subsequent book out quickly. I do understand where those readers were coming from, and am glad I could oblige without leaving anybody waiting for too long.

 

If the owner of the “Wages of Sin is Death” message is reading this, my advice is to get a second banner and post them like the old-fashioned Burma Shave signs… “The wages of sin is death,” and then a few yards up the road, a second sign with the hope-filled conclusion, “The gift of God is eternal life…” I don’t mind being left hanging for a few yards, but I don’t like to be left waiting for too terribly long, or the point is lost on me.

 

A little suspense is great, but don’t keep me on the edge of my seat forever. A nice, slow build up to a tender love scene is very sensual, but don’t dash my hopes too many times or I may not even enjoy the happy ending when it comes. As a reader and a writer, my opinion is that once you have the momentum going, it’s best to keep on climbing at as brisk a pace as you can manage.

 

And as for my neighbor, if you’re going to tell me the bad news, you’d better find a way to share the good news now – not later!

9 Comments

Filed under books, musings, Sherrie Hansen, writing

9 responses to “Don’t Keep Me Hanging Too Long! by Sherrie Hansen

  1. Recently I’ve given up on two books because there were so many characters in the first two chapters I ran out of mental energy trying to keep them straight. On top of that, the characters were referred to variously by nicknames, first or last name or their status as someone’s second cousin once removed. If there was a plot, I lost track quickly. Being a reader of mysteries, I’m all for complexity, but I don’t want to have to keep a scorecard handy.

    • Sherrie Hansen

      I understand, Mickey. I worry about that with Merry Go Round, the third book in my trilogy. In theory, you can read it without having read the first two books. But the reality is that I think it would be pretty confusing for the reader to jump into the fray of the family without knowing who is who. Everyone has kids by the time Merry Go Round opens – but the kids are an integral part of the plot, so odn’t know how I could have handled it differently.

  2. Sadly, I disagree, Sherrie. I like the tease, the anticipation, the slow build of a good story. I’m waiting for book four in a tetrology I started reading in 2005. But then, I open my presents on Christmas morning, not Christmas Eve. I prefer a pitchers’ duel in baseball, not a high-scoring slugfest that lasts four hours and empties both bullpens and both benches.

    What you’ve described I feel is the result of our immediate gratification society. Can’t wait, must have it now—don’t save for it, put it on a credit card. Television, I think, has a lot to do with that. It’s so visual. A picture is worth a thousand words. Who wants to read a page of narrative describing a room when a camera can slow pan to show it to us in a matter of seconds?

    On the other hand, knowing I’m in the minority, I hope I’ll see resurgence in sales of One Hot January once January’s Thaw is released later this year.

    • Sherrie Hansen

      I know what you mean! We have gotten to be very impatient as a society, and in some ways, I’ve fallen into the trap of wanting things right now. I do like slow descriptions though, and I’m not one that has to be thrown into the story immediately. A good tease is wonderful, but it’s a fine line. Lately I’ve read some books where the author’s timing seemed to be off, and the tease becomes too much, or goes on for too long. But masterfully done, it’s a whole other story. And I guess I do want resolution in due time, which obviously has different definitions for each of us. 🙂

  3. I’m one of those who often waits for trilogies to be complete before starting them, and waits till TV series are over before watching. I remember being left dangling week after week by TV series as a kid, feeling so frustrated and somehow imagining adults didn’t have to feel that way. So I try not to feel that way.

    That said, as long as part of the story’s complete, and the cliff-hanger’s not too obviously contrived, (and I’m fairly sure the series won’t get cancelled) I end up agreeing with J. Conrad Guest; the wait can be cool, enticing, leading you on.

    And I was hooked on Harry Potter before the first book even hit the stores in the States, as was my son.

    • Sherrie Hansen

      One of my favorite series is Star Trek, Next Generation, which I watched in its entirety as re-runs aired at 10:30 p.m. Monday through Friday nights back in 1992 and 1993. It was so intense, getting to watch a show every night – I loved it and really got involved with the characters.

      I also like a good tease, but lately, I have found some books that seem to carry things a bit too far, or drag things out a bit too long. It’s a fine line, I guess.

  4. Good post, Sherrie. I especially liked the anology to the sign. I’m the same way, I like the story to keep building to a satisfactory ending, no cheating by looking ahead, just a nice upward pace.
    Good luck with all your books!

  5. I love when a book grabs me and I can’t read fast enough. But I usually am reading 4-6 books at a time, so it takes me a while to get through them.

    One of the things I’m concerned with in the book I’m writing now (4th in the series) is that I have a LOT of suspects, so I hope it doesn’t get too confusing or overwhelming for the reader. I think it’s pretty straight forward, but I’m going to keep Mickey’s comment about nicknames and last names in mind.

    I love when someone buys all three of my books at once–it’s fun isn’t it?

  6. Pingback: Another Great Blog to Bookmark! « Bertram's Blog

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