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Cliffhangers and The Art of Writing

A Post from Wise Ink Creative Publishing

Cliff hanger 1Cliffhangers Part 2: How to Keep Your Reader Reading

What does it take to create a book you can’t put down?

Creating a page-turning novel takes a specific formula: a captivating cast of characters, an intriguing premise, alluring narration, calculated pacing, and the golden ingredient—a huge dash of suspense.

Suspense entices readers with the big, intense dilemma that drives the story—but also on a chapter-by-chapter level. A good story goes through multiple mini story arcs that pushes the reader though the book until the main tension is resolved.

A cliffhanger at the end of a chapter will make it difficult to stop reading.

Here’s a list of tried and true methods for creating suspenseful cliffhangers: 

  • Introduce a new element: a new character, confession, discovery, or announcement at the end of a scene creates a puzzling situation or a golden opportunity for a plot twist. Just as readers think the previous cliff hanger 2scene is winding down, a new element catapults readers to the next chapter for answers.
  • Intriguing questions: Use dialogue, internal or external, to explore what issues keep your character up at night. What is this character hiding? Will the protagonist ever find the solution to the big problem?
  • Decision Time: Leave your protagonist, and your reader, wondering what to do next on both big and small scales. How will the Big Evil be taken down? Or should your protagonist go on that blind date?
  • Clue the reader in—that is, use foreshadowing: Use a perspective switch to tell the reader something big and bad is coming, unbeknownst to the character. It sets up anticipation–will the protagonist will figure it out?
  • Interrupt or interfere: Think Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Build up a moment, perhaps with a catchy chorus, and bring the Prince and Princess’s lips a hairsbreadth apart—then tip the boat over. Don’t give the reader what they want too soon. This will keep them invested until the lip lock actually happens.
  • Break a moment of tension: Build up to the decision to throw the grenade, have the protagonist confront the killer, and then start the next chapter with the aftermath. By breaking the moment of tension, you inadvertently create more suspense.
  • Withhold information: Think heist movies. “I’ll tell you what we’re gonna do,” the protagonist says… Then the chapter ends, leaving the reader in the dark. The character figures out the master plan to catch the bad guy, and the reader keeps devouring sentences to see how they DID it. You have to stick along to the end it find out.
  • Save huge “GASP!” moments for the end: Tension should build up to the climatic moment over the course of the book, and little cliffhangers should be resolved, but save the biggest for the end, otherwise the reader will feel cheated. An intense cliffhanger seems clumsily out of place in chapter three.

All cliffhangers need to be used strategically and with purpose. The end goal is to keep the book in the hands of your readers and NOT to have it thrown against the wall in frustration.

Here’s a quick list of things you SHOULDN’T do when constructing cliffhangers:

cliff hanger 3Don’t rely on gimmicks, cheesy narration, poor structure, or cruel manipulation to keep your readers going.

  • Cut off the scene abruptly to force the reader to turn the page. A cliffhanger still has to function as the end of the scene, with a little bit of closure along with the tease.
  • Tack the beginning of the next chapter onto the end of the previous one. This is just lazy.
  • Cut off a character midsentence. This is cheesy and creates an awkward break in a conversation.
  • Deceive your readers with an anticlimax: revealing immediately in the next chapter there really wasn’t any danger will make them scream—and not in a good way.
  • Insert poor narration: “She’ll soon discover she’s made a terrible mistake.” This is an easy out. Create real tension with your clever and crafty writing.
  • Script non-stop cliffhangers: Give the readers, and the characters they are following, a chance to come back down from the high every once and a while.

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A great investment for writers

A great investment for writers

Sammie Justesen is a publisher and the author of Dialogue for Writers, released in May, 2014.

She is also an artist and president of the Lawrence County Art Association.

A new review of Dialogue for Writers

This book delivers. If you are a writer, you’ll find a wealth of information and insight that will allow you to assess your style and discover practical ways to make good writing better.
Even popular published authors can benefit from this book. For instance, I am a Stephenie Meyer fan. She is a master of her genre, but if she had read Sammie Justesen’s book, Edward would not have”snickered” and “chuckled” so much that these particular dialogue tags became annoying and distracting. Sammie Justesen’s book offers great advice from a number of perspectives including the all-important publisher’s perspective. I have no hesitation in rating it a five-star book.



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