Back in November, INTERN posted about a curious phenomenon she noticed when flipping through a stack of library books: wherever she stuck in her thumb, she was never more than two or three sentences from a clearly identifiable internal or external conflict.
In the intervening weeks, INTERN has been doing more experiments in her (padlocked and bat-infested) Book Laboratory, and has noticed another phenomenon among published novels, memoirs, and even some non-fiction.
INTERN observed that at the end of every chapter in any novel she picked up from her pile, she was left with at least one, but sometimes two or three, Questions. The existence of these Questions produced in INTERN's fevered little brain a desire to keep reading, if only to find out the Answers.
As INTERN continued the experiment, she was horrified to discover that even when she thought a particular book or chapter was trashy and poorly-written, she would still experience desire to keep reading if the Questions were salient enough. Like a rat in a maze, INTERN wanted to scurry down the hallway of each Question, lured by the promise of answering Cheese.
End-of-chapter Questions come in many different flavors. Here is but a small smattering:
There's the Mystery Question: "Could it be that roguish masked man was the legendary...Thievaro? But if so, where was his wooden leg?"
The Will-he-make-it: "Will Casey make it to the baseball diamond in time to save his team?"
The Bet-he-won't: "Will that hideous car crash prevent Casey from making it to the baseball diamond on time?"
The And-he-didn't: "Oh no! Casey missed the ball game! How will he survive the horrible consequences?"
The Inner Turmoil: "Can Georgette forgive Sir Roguesly for leaving her at the altar?"
The Growth Spurt: "Will Frodo be able to carry on without his beloved mentor?"
The Scientific: "Is the atmosphere of planet Ziggabrix really turning people into sponges?"
The Technical: "Why can't the motorcycle engine start?"
The Twist: "How will this new information or unexpected turn of events affect the hero?"
The Flirt: "Did the lascivious Sensualissa really just WINK at RAYMOND???"
The Hero Gets Shot: "The hero got shot! Now how will Trentsville protect itself from zombies?"
The Mystery Flirt: "It has been suggested that a certain character knows more than they have been letting on! But what do they know?"
Etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.
A question doesn't have to be Big and Monstrous for it to be interesting. God forbid that every novel or memoir should be a constant stream of mysterious or coy chapter endings. Emotional subtleties and changing dynamics of character relationships can form effective questions just as well as plot twists and mystery bandits.
But whatever kind of Question it is, INTERN has found that there is always a Question. And that Question is what keeps INTERN reading. Giving the reader something to want (answers, resolution to built-up tension) can be an effective way to keep interest high.
Note, however, that the experiment totally fails for jazzy, unusual books like Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore's incredible So Many Ways to Sleep Badly. Books like that have developed other ingenious ways of keeping readers interested, and it will take many more sleepless nights in the Book Lab for this lowly INTERN to even scratch the surface of those.