This week I’m pleased to present a post by my critique partner Linda Yezak, who is in the midst of a slam-bang celebration of her delightful inspirational rom-com Give the Lady a Ride. She’s running a fun giveaway, featuring all kinds of gift certificates. Click for the rules. Today, she talks about the danger of tying off every scene too neat and pretty.
Authors need to master the art of developing cliff hangers. They’re like the antidote to the bookmark. Resist the urge to tie everything up with a pretty little ribbon. Scene to scene, chapter to chapter, end with something that forces the reader to turn the page. And once they do, reward them with a reason to do it again.
|Image by Alfonso Jaramillo|
A bullet whizzed past Kayla’s head. She ducked and twisted to glance behind her. “They’re shooting at us!”End of chapter.
“I can’t think about that right now!” Justin yanked the paddle from one side to the other, trying to control the kayak’s crazy spin. “Hang on!”
For the next chapter, you have all sorts of options: Do you want to continue with Justin and Kayla? Or do you want to divert to another tense spot? Maybe you want to show the shooter’s frustration over missing them and how much trouble he gets into for his failure. Maybe you want to slip all the way over to Cornpatch, Iowa, to show innocent Aunt Minnie getting a garbled phone call about how Kayla will die if Minnie doesn’t relinquish the golden statue right this minute: “But I don’t have it! I don’t know where it is!” “Then you’ll never see your niece again!”
Poor Aunt Minnie. She doesn’t know her niece is getting shot at and is spinning in a kayak caught in a strong current.
For those who aren’t writing action/thriller/suspense novels into which you can plop these stop-action chapter endings, you can still have a page-turner. High-octane scenes aren’t the only candidates for cliff-hanger status. Any scene can encourage your reader to move forward if you leave something there to niggle at her brain.
Did he just find out she’s not a lady of the court? He reins his Friesian around to face her. “If you’re not Lady Cornwall, who are you?” Wait until the next chapter—or even later—to tell him she’s a cabaret dancer.
Is she sweaty-palmed with pre-show jitters? Terrified she’ll freeze when the camera comes on? The last line in the chapter should be the director jabbing his finger in her direction. Action! What if the entire point of the chapter is to allow your reader to rest while your character reflects? If she’s going to be happy at the end of the chapter—“He loves me!”—pop her bubble in the next. And if you really want to assure page-turning, foreshadow the pin that’ll do it.
Will she end the chapter with a resolution to do whatever needs to get done? As God is my witness, I’ll never go hungry again! Then smack her with a roadblock in the next scene—perhaps one the reader already knows is coming, even if the character doesn’t.
Has doubt snaked into his confidence? Say so–He frowns at the $4,000-diamond ring in his hand. “What if she says no?”—and end it there.
Even in slow scenes, the emotion can be amped, so when the fall comes, it’s hard and dramatic. And irresistible to your reader. If you can’t end the scene in the middle of the action, end with a question, an attitude, an emotion strong enough to blow the reader’s hair back, but don’t end it in a tidy little package. You may not have noticed, but the ribbon comes with a bookmark attached.
About the Author: Linda Yezak lives with her husband and three cats in the great state of Texas, where tall tales abound and exaggeration is an art form. Aside from being a member of Women Writing the West (WWW) and The Christian PEN, she is a proud member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). Her debut novel, Give the Lady a Ride, was a finalist in the 2008 ACFW Genesis contest, and her newest, The Cat Lady's Secret, was a finalist in 2010 (and is currently on the hunt for an agent!). A self-described nut, she says, "I keep my feet candy-coated, because there's no telling when one or both will land in my mouth."
Tell me your opinion: How does your latest scene convince readers to keep turning the pages?
Related Posts: How to Use Scene Breaks to Cut the Fat
10 Killer Chapter Breaks
How Scene and Chapter Length Control Pacing
Story by K.M. Weiland