Friday, September 3, 2010

A Little Change for A Lot More Tension

If you've been following this blog, you know I'm a fan of cliffhanger chapter endings, whether that means pausing in the middle of an action scene, or simply ending in a quieter moment that still looks forward. So once you've chosen your cliffhanger moment, how do you make the most of it?

Sometimes you may need to add a little new material -- new thoughts, new dialogue, or even a twist in the action -- in order to build a proper cliffhanger moment. As a bonus, this may take your story in new and interesting directions.


In Haunted: The Ghost on the Stairs, I had a scene where the kids call their father. He is a scientist who does not believe in ghosts, so they are trying to get advice on how he would research ghosts, without letting him know what's going on. To add more tension—and a cliffhanger ending—I had Mom walk in during the conversation and get upset over what she heard and misunderstood. That's much more powerful than just having the kids say goodbye to Dad and hang up. Plus, it adds a twist to the story as Mom, feeling guilty about neglecting her kids, decides to spend the whole next day with them, interfering with their plans.

In Haunted: The Riverboat Phantom, I didn’t have this ploy of Tania’s in the original outline, but needed to end the chapter with something more than just having the kids walk off.

      “I wish we could do something about Madame Natasha,” Tania said. “She makes Mom unhappy, and she’s poking in our business. We’ve just got to get rid of her.”
      I rubbed my hands over my face and yawned. I still felt kind of weak after my ghost encounter. “One thing at a time, OK? Let’s deal with Henry O’Brien [the ghost] first.”
      Tania got that look in her eyes. The one that means trouble ahead. “But maybe they’re not separate problems. Mr. O’Brien seems ready to believe the worst of everybody. And if there’s one person who deserves it, it’s Madame Natasha!”
       “You want to sic Henry O’Brien on her?”
       “Why not? It’s about time a ghost did us a favor.”

This encourages the reader to turn the page, to find out just how they sic the ghost on the fake psychic, and whether it works.

Exercise: Look over your chapter endings and see if a minor tweak to the action could create a more powerful cliffhanger. (See my June posts on cliffhangers for more help.)

Next week -- keeping your cliffhangers honest.

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