I love a good exclamation point. (Unfortunately, that last sentence didn’t require one!) And the Nancy Drew mysteries have certainly added plenty of exclamation points to my life.
I’ve written before about how the mystery format of the Nancy Drew series helped me see a way to shape stories, and about how Carolyn Keene’s unique vocabulary expanded my own. Well, the Nancy Drew books also taught me about the mechanics of writing — such as pacing and cliffhangers.
The stories were always moving forward quickly. And just when you thought you might stop reading at the end of the chapter — boom! There was a cliffhanger and you had to keep going.
That’s an excellent formula for writing a book, isn’t it? Just leave out all the boring parts!
One of my favorite books in the series was The Secret at Shadow Ranch. Surely there must have been a reason I read it so many times. Was it more exciting than the others? I recently pulled it off the shelf to gauge the Cliffhanger Quotient.
Sure enough, every chapter ends with a cliffhanger, and all but one end with an exclamation point!
The next instant an unearthly shriek split the air and someone seized her!
Too late! The two horses collided. Nancy flew from the saddle and hit the ground so hard she blacked out!
Nancy opened the door and the shining specks floated into the room!
This level of intensity — and exclamation point usage — is sustained throughout the whole book. Don’t believe me? Skip ahead to the very last sentence:
“Poor Ned! I hope he doesn’t need that sweater very soon!”