Continue reading “Writers Helping Writers:Mastering the Art of Cliffhangers”
I’m so close to finishing my WIP, I can taste it. AUGUSTINA, the sequel to SADIE, should be done very, very soon. The first 2/3 is finished and to my awesomely supportive beta readers. The last 1/3 is in the polishing stage. I’m at mile 25 baby. I’m so excited to get this book to all of you. I love it. I hope you do, too!
As I finish it up, I’m going back through all the writing tips I’ve learned through the years. Here’s one:
Writing Tip 1: Keep your readers reading by ending chapters at the climax of a scene, not the resolution
The goal of an author is to keep the reader reading. We’ve all started books and never finished. Heaven forbid our readers do that with our masterpiece, right?
So keep them reading. End with a cliffhanger.
TV shows, especially dramas, go to commercial right at the height of intensity. Even in reality shows, the music will build to a dramatic swell, and then BAM! You’re watching a Geico commercial.
They do that so you don’t leave. So you don’t get distracted. So you don’t forget in those two minutes of commercials how much you really love that show.
The human race as a whole has severe ADHD. We have the attention spans of gnats.
You might be asking, “How do I end my scenes without chapter breaks then?”
You can do the classic three-star break between scenes. Like this…
Readers are less likely to put down a book after this kind of break than a full chapter break. However, it’s still bookmarkable. (If that wasn’t a word before, it is now.)
In the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, she rolls one scene into the next without any breaks. She’ll even skip days with just a simple transition sentence. I don’t recall seeing any *** in her books. She just starts the next paragraph with the next scene. “Even two days later, Katniss still couldn’t…”
The effect is the reader gets to the end of the chapter, and they really, really, really need to go to bed. But someone’s about to die! How can they possibly go to bed when someone is about to die? They can’t. Not if they care about the characters (a whole different topic).
And there’s no other bookmarkable places because her chapter breaks are the only breaks. So the reader looks like this:
That is awesome writing. That is my goal.
I’m still trying to master this concept. It’s hard to do. But the greatest compliments I’ve received as an author are the ones the sound like this:
“Hey, I started your book yesterday. Thanks a lot,” said with dripping sarcasm. “I was supposed to get all this stuff done, and I ended up staying up WAY too late to finish.”
That’s the hope.
*Dear Readers: I’m sorry. Authors are mean. We don’t care about your home life. Well, we sort of do. We’re trying to let you escape it for a four or five hours. Or Six. Or ten.*
Though Augustina has been in different stages of writing for nearly three years, I’m just now solidifying the ends of the chapters and trying to smooth all the scene transitions. My goal is to keep those pages turning.
So that’s writing tip #1.
End your chapters at the height of the scene with a good ole cliff hanger.
The more you do it, the more natural it feels to leave your readers hanging. You’ll instinctively know when it’s time to take a commercial break.
What do you think?
Do you like the cliff hanger trick? Where have you seen it used well? What do you do when a scene really doesn’t have a spot for dramatic pause? Share your thoughts here.
Other writing tips:
- Writing Tip #1: Ending Chapters at the Height of Scene, Not Resolution
- Writing Tip #2: Using Beats to Strengthen Characters and Settings
- Writing Tip #3: Know Your Writing Priorities
- Writing Tip #4: Beta Readers
- Writing Tip #5: Trim the Fat, Cutting the Easy Stuff
Subscribe and get updates for Rebecca Belliston by e-mail.