In fact, they are so beautiful that we would give anything to see a sleeping baby at 3 in the morning. Those of you who’ve had a little one know exactly what I’m talking about. That moment when you are sure you are going to go crazy if you don’t sleep. You turn on the vacuum, lullabys or get the car keys and go for a spin.
Lullabys are perfect. In baby land.
So, what about novel land? NO. WAY. As writers we can’t afford to lull our readers into a snooze or they will put our book down and who knows if they will pick it up again.
Our story requires cliffhangers at the end of each scene and chapter. Something that pulls the reader forward and makes them look at the clock at three a.m. and contemplate how tired they can afford to be the next day. The propelling force forward that hooks them until ‘The End.’
At The End Of A Scene:
*Make sure the character is in a worse spot than they were at the beginning of the scene. If you end the scene in a happy spot without a new problem or tension, it is the same as singing a lullaby.
Example of happy ending: Clint tipped her chin and gazed in her eyes. “Forever, sounds good to me.”
Example of cliffhanger: “You don’t have to pretend. Bachelor runs in your blood, but I love you Clint. Even if you don’t love me.”
(The difference is simply where you leave it. Or, if you want to do an internal thought, she could question that he meant forever. He wasn’t the forever type. Now, we all want to know what is going to happen next.)
*Make sure the problem matters. Who cares? If you don’t have a strong enough answer for that, then it is not going to matter to the reader either.
For example: The reader might not care that the heroine has to make a long drive home to see her dad, but the reader would definitely care if the heroine has to make a long drive home to see her dad because he had a heart attack.
*End the scene with a thought or action sequence that leaves them in a bad place. Whether or not the character reached their scene goal, you still must have a point of new tension at the end of the scene.
For example: The heroine is stranded at the end of the road at night and finally a mechanic comes along, that’s good. But what if the mechanic was someone you didn’t trust? At the end of the scene the heroine could get in his car to drive toward town, hoping that her gut was wrong.
At The End Of A Chapter:
All of the same rules apply as are required at the end of a scene, but there are a few more things I try to do.
*End the chapter with a plot dilemma. If the chapter ends where the reader wants to know what is happening next in the plot, they are more likely to turn the page.
For example: The blue van’s side door slid open. Strong arms gripped her around the waist. The scent of oil grunge gagged her. The hood slid into place over her head. Total darkness. Someone was screaming. It must be her. She’d die today.
*End the chapter with a surprise. Find a way to let a twist land right at the end of the chapter.
For example: A crime has occurred next door and a police officer comes to your door to ask if you saw anything that might give them a clue to catch the killer. You of course say, ‘No.’ When the police officer leaves you go to your closet and open the door. Inside is a teenager with blood on their clothes, terrified out of their mind. And you say, “You can come out now.” That is an example of ending with a surprise. You end right there in that moment.
Cliffhangers keep readers up in the middle of the night because they just can’t put your novel down. Don’t put your reader to sleep, keep them intrigued. What is your favorite cliffhanger of all time in a novel or movie?