Here’s part three of my essay on cliffhangers. Get the whole essay, along with lots of other good stuff to make your manuscripts stronger, in Advanced Plotting.
If you don’t have an action novel, you can still have dramatic chapter endings, whether or not the characters are in physical danger. In a young adult romance, for example, the drama may come from social humiliation at school and awkward or exciting moments with the love interest. Play up those moments for maximum effect.
Not every chapter has to end with a major cliffhanger. Sometimes it feels more natural to end the chapter at the end of the scene, especially if that scene is followed by a jump to a different time and place. You can end in a quieter moment, so long as you’re still looking forward. Here’s an example from The Amethyst Road, by Louise Spiegler. Serena has been searching for her mother for over 200 pages, believing that her mother will be able to put the family back together. But when she finds her, this happens:
Mother’s smile vanished. “But, Serena, how can I help? The Cruelty won’t even let me care for my own children.” She raised her face to mine. “Look at me. I can hardly help myself, daughter. How can I help you?
This works as a cliffhanger because the response is a challenge to Serena’s expectations and hope. What will she do now? The reader will turn the page, wanting to know.
In this example from The Farwalker’s Quest, by Joni Sensel, the two main characters have a quiet moment before setting out again on their journey:
They worked out a plan. After Pres left them to sleep, Ariel and Zeke only lay back and gazed at the ceiling. His toes, warm against her calf, seemed to say all that was needed between them. This night in a real bed would be the last for a long time to come.
This looks towards the future, reminding the reader that their troubles are not over.
Cliffhangers are a powerful tool to build suspense. Choose a dramatic moment, expand the moment with sensory details for drama, and use short paragraphs and sentences for impact. You’ll keep readers turning the page.
Advanced Plotting is designed for the intermediate and advanced writer: you’ve finished a few stories, read books and articles on writing, taken some classes, attended conferences. But you still struggle with plot, or suspect that your plotting needs work.
Advanced Plotting can help.