Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Cliff, meet my good friend Hanger

I have a love/hate relationship with brilliant chapter ends. I love them when I have a large amount of time to read. I hate them when it's late at night and I can't bring myself to close the book.

As writers, it's safe to assume we all wish to write stories the reader can't put down. But from first draft to printed copy, how do we get there? How do you determine your chapter ends? Do you organize your chapters in such a way that the climax of a scene coincides with an acceptable word count? Do you alternate points of view with each chapter?

In Revision & Self-Editing, James Scott Bell offers these suggestions for page-turning chapter ends:
  • a mysterious line of dialogue
  • an image that's full of foreboding (like the fog rolling in)
  • a secret suddenly revealed
  • a major decision or vow
  • announcement of a shattering event
  • reversal or surprise - new information that turns the story around
  • a question left hanging in the air
If the readers says, "Just one more chapter" at 1 a.m., the author has done his job. For more information about chapter ends, check out this post about Chapter Endings & the Hunger Games, and this one...The End is -- Shoot, Too Soon.

Please share: how do you determine a chapter's end or a page turn?

On a side note, I recently discovered an amazing resource for writers (am I the only one who didn't know about this?) It's called Writer's Knowledge Base (now linked on my sidebar). This Google-like search is organized by Elizabeth Craig, and if you're on Twitter, you know how plugged in she is.

42 comments:

  1. Great links! I love a good cliffhanger!

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  2. You are a veritable plethora of knowledge. There, I used the words "veritable plethora" today!! Seriously, Julie. That's another great post. My take? If you see each chapter as a complete scene (mini story w/arc, etc.) then it should be fairly simple to hook into the next "scene" with a good page turner. Phew.

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  3. Cliff hangers can be too dramatic at times but I think if a writer figures out to start a scene as far into it as possible and end it as soon as you can, the cliff hangers are easier to find. Great post.

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  4. Thanks for sharing Writers Knowledge Base with us! For my writing the chapter ends when the arc of that part of the story ends. Each chapter for me has it's own arc of sorts, be it emotional (character) or physical (an event or occurance).

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  5. Yes, do stop so chapters roughly the same at a worrying moment - will the squirrel drown or will my hero save him, but no changed point of view, would muddle my readers. :0)

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  6. Cliffhangers are a huge tool in a writer's arsenal.

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  7. Hey Crusader.

    I agree, if a writer can master the cliffhanger then wow. That's what I want in my novels--the I HAVE to read the next chapter. If the reader can book the book down for even a moment(either in the middle of the chapter ot the end) then there's a problem. We don't want them putting the book down.

    Thanks for the post. Good stuff.

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  8. This post rocked so hard! I agree with all those points, and there's nothing more exciting than getting that last page in a chapter, bracing yourself to go to bed, then bam! You gotta keep reading :D

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  9. I hate reading cliff hangers (makes me mad at the author), but I LOVE writing them. Revision is my favorite time: the hour when in analyzing the flow of each scene I finalize where the ax is going to chop. Great post!

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  10. Hi Julie,

    A great post. Thanks for the links.

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  11. Great post with awesome links! Thanks, Julie!

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  12. I do have a love-hate relationship with chapter cliffhangers -- because I'm so sleepy in the morning! LOL.

    As a writer, I really can appreciate the work that goes into to creating page-turners.

    Ooooh, and thanks for that Writer's Knowledge Base link. Elizabeth Craig is like the link goddess on Twitter -- so this should be good. :)

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  13. You know... while I can appreciate a good cliff hanger, I ALSO appreciate that finality of 'what's next'. I feel like a book should have a combination or you are going to annoy your reader. (or maybe it is only me who is annoyed.

    I tend to shift chapters when I change point of view... so it is a scene end and I need to jump perspectives... sometimes it is big, sometimes it is not... but i haven't had any professionals yet agree or disagree, so i have no clue how effective that is.

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  14. Great post. Love the links. I love the cliffhanger pageturners and understand the work that must go into creating them.

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  15. Chapter endings are not my strong suit! But I followed Mr. Bell's advice and copied the first and last line of each paragraph into a Word doc. Boy, the good and the bad glare at you when they're the only thing on the page!

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  16. Love this menu, Julie. My daughter is having a love/hate relationship with the HUNGER GAMES trilogy because the great cliff hangers are keeping her from her studying.

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  17. I'm sooo not that organized or thoughtful about my chapter endings. I just kind of write it out - however, I do try to have something there that (hopefully) pushes the reader to know what happens next. Some great ideas there, though! Thanks for the links, too ~ :)

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  18. I love cliffhangers too. They torture the reader!

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  19. Good post. I am now going through my MS with my revisions to be sure my ending for each chapter is one of those above.

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  20. Whoa, thanks for the list! And the links! Bookmarking right....now.....

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  21. Good cliffhangers are the best! THey keep me up all the time! :)

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  22. I like Bell's tips. Thanks for sharing them. I've tried all of them at one time or another.

    I'd LOVE to write a book that people couldn't put down. I'm trying!

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  23. Thanks for the links! I try to do a mixture of both although when I first started writing I used to leave every single chapter off on a cliffhanger.

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  24. These are good ideas...As others have said, I think the most important thing is to use a variety of methods so it doesn't feel orchestrated.

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  25. Ooh, would you believe I was just having this conversation this week? I think I'm discovering that the spot to end my chapters usually has a feeling to it, like it's a natural place to insert a chapter break. Not always, sometimes it takes more consideration but I don't intentionally try to end with cliff hangers because personally I like slow building tension and get exhausted easily LOL! Thanks for your kind comment on my blog yesterday by the way - you may not have known it, but you made my day:)

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  26. I loved... loved this post title!!! You left me hanging to where I had to hop on over before work!!!

    This is great to think about. I do love a great cliff hanger, for the novel I sent to the publisher I did a little take on shifting the cliff hangers, then again the new novel is entirely different from anything I've seen. Let's hope that's a good thing!

    Great stuff Julie!

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  27. I read "The Divinci Code" shortly after writing my first novel. Dan Brown is a master at cliff hanger chapter endings. I went back through my manuscript and cut my chapters off at the most exciting moments, and rearranged the flow of the entire book. It worked.

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  28. Great cliffhangers are in all of my favorite books. There isn't anything better than not being able to put a book down.

    Nikki

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  29. Ooo, I love making cliffhanger or pageturner chapter endings. In fact, when I'm about 3 or 4 pages away from the approximate end of my chapter as I'm writing away, I try to figure out what would be a good place to leave my potential reader hanging, and work my way there. Sometimes it ends on a low/final note, but more often there's a more pressing (I hope) need to turn the page and find out what is happening. :)

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  30. I really don't like getting to the end of the book and there's a cliff hanger..I want a good resolution. Something that ties the book together in a grand finalle (spelt wrong).

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  31. Good tips. I've been studying my chapter endings and wish to make them stronger.

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  32. But they have to be good. Those transparent, trying-too-hard chapter endings make me question the writer's talent and, after several, I might put down the book.

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  33. I love a book that has great chapter endings that leave me wanting to read "just one more chapter." But when it gets too late, I'll usually end up leaving off in the middle of the chapter just so I can get some sleep without being left hanging.

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  34. I love great chapter endings, even when I don't really have time to go on. It's always great to breeze back into the house and pick up the book I've been longing to read since I left it!

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  35. Hey thanks a ton for visiting and following my blog. Looks like you've got something pretty cool going on over here! Consider me a follower ;-) (I just finished The Hunger Games so that link was particularly apt.)

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  36. Sounds like I should get a copy of Self Editing.
    bethfred.com

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  37. I sometimes think of each chapter as a short story even though it's part of something bigger. Ideally, it should have beginning middle and end - except the end of the chapter doesn't resolve things. Instead, it may bring up some new development that leaves the reader with questions instead of answers.

    Great post, Julie and thanks for the new resource.

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  38. I try to put a cliff hanger, even a small one, in each chapter hoping to create a page turner. I love reading those kind of books. Thanks for the links!

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  39. I love cliff hangers, would love to have them in my books. I thinks its the dream of every writer to write a page turner. Thanks for the links.

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  40. Great post!
    I'm working on beefing up my chapter endings right now, as I push through another round of edits on my WIP - thanks for the great links, too!

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