Authors have many different ways of keeping their readers reading rather than cleaning the house, walking the dog, or switching off the bedside light and settling down for a healthy eight hours of beauty sleep.
Dan Brown’s (Da Vinci Code etc.) plots may be implausible, his character development wooden, and his prose lumpen, but he keeps his readers up at night by ending each chapter on a cliff hanger. You simply have to turn the page to find out what happens next.
At the other extreme, you have the supreme wordsmith, Shakespeare, who practices a much more subtle art. Today I’m going to illustrate just one technique he uses to keep his readers / audiences engaged and alert: the surprise change of tack within a sentence which captures your attention, just as you were being lulled into anticipating a more predictable turn of phrase. It’s not as simple to do as it looks, but it is certainly an effective way of keeping your reader on their toes and eager for more.
Here are a few examples from the great master:
He thinks too much; such men are dangerous. Julius Caesar
He is a tried and valiant soldier; so is my horse. Julius Caesar
One may smile and smile and be a villain. Hamlet
Nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it. Macbeth
[You] only are reputed wise for saying nothing. Merchant of Venice.
And so… from the sublime to the mundane.
At the moment I am working on a project to create back stories for a number of Shakespeare’s female characters – and along the way I am filling in gaps in my knowledge of his plays. I am approaching the plays with more maturity (quite a lot more in fact) than I had when I studied him at school and university, and I am thoroughly enjoying the new learning experience. My latest short story, based on one of the lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, will appear in an anthology published by Summer Solstice on June 21st. Can’t promise much in the way of irresistible cliff hangers or breath-taking word play, but I’ve had fun re-reading the play and writing the story.