Creative Writing Techniques: Cliffhangers & Sourdough (Day 19)

As I waited in line to be served at a local German bakery this morning, I started reading a brochure that describes all of their loaves. It explained how the bakers have been using the same sour culture for years now, refreshing it daily. In other words, the leaven is dough that is saved from a previous batch in order to start the fermentation process of a later one.

That got me thinking: wouldn’t it be easier if we used this same technique when writing? One of the things that I used to do was resolve the conflict of that day’s scene before going to bed. I figured I would be better off if I retired for the day with no loose ends.

But just as the sourdough baker needn’t start from scratch every morning because he already has yesterday’s leaven, so the writer would be much better off if there would be some loose ends to hold on to as he begins a new day of writing. Without such literary leaven, so to speak, the writer often ends up losing the thread of his own story.

When you write, use the cliffhanger technique. Think of soap operas: each episode ends with an unresolved scene that leaves the audience gasping in suspense. The chapters of most books also end in this manner, so that instead of calling it a night at the end of chapter eleven, you find yourself reading half-way into chapter twelve.

When you turn on your computer to start your writing for the day, the last thing you want to feel is that dread of not knowing how to start or what was the last thing your characters were doing. It is so much easier to start when you feel the blood pumping in your veins because you, too, are so utterly curious (if you are a pantster, at least) to see what your characters are going to do next. Enthusiasm and curiosity: two of the best antidotes to writer’s block.

My characters must find me rather sadistic, because I do not stop writing until I have left them in the worst possible situation. For instance, just this afternoon my heroine was unjustly accused of murder by her mother-in-law. How will she escape this calumny? (And yes, this is all part of my romance novel.) I have a vague idea of what she will do next, but I will wait for my heroine to lead me.

I feel excited: I can’t wait until tomorrow’s writing session because I am genuinely interested in the fate of my characters and I want to know down what path their motives, assumptions, and beliefs will take them.