Friday, 2 November 2012

Cliff Hanger Promises...

One of the first things I tried to conquer when I started writing thrillers was the art of cliff-hangers. I tried my hardest to get my hero/heroine into terrible difficulty and then leave then… well, hanging!
But I often rebelled about doing it as it didn’t always fit the story. Then I realised that you simply had to lead the reader with the promise that something was going to happen and then delay the actual happening. The page turning suspense that this caused was the answer, I thought. So I practised it fervently.  Scene cuts also helped – i.e. moving to a different time, place or character and then coming back to the present dilemma later in the story.
The only problem was that sometimes it still felt like a kind of breathless ride where no one gets time to reflect properly or for the reader to drop down the tension.  Even the most hair-raising ride can seem tame if someone gets too used to it.
It wasn’t until I understood the art of using scenes that I realised I didn’t have to go over the top. Scenes with character, conflict, conclusion/disaster made a lot of sense to me and once I realised that the character must have a want/ objective at the beginning  and that objective should not only be unmet by the end, but the character must be worse off, then I began to see that here was the natural cliff-hanger. The character now has an even greater obstacle to overcome. How will he cope? What will he do? The reader, hopefully, worries for the character and that will keep him turning the pages just as if it is a cliff-hanger.

“We throw in as many fresh words as we can get away with. Simple, short sentences don't always work. You have to do tricks with pacing, alternate long sentences with short, to keep it alive and vital. Virtually every page is a cliff-hanger—you've got to force them to turn it.”
Dr. Seuss

So do you try to put a 'will he won't he' question at the end of every scene? Or do you save cliff hangers for chapter ends or even for every page?


  1. I don't write thrillers, but I think the concept is the same for other genres. You want the reader to keep wanting to turn the page. At this point in my writing (my first novel) I'm just trying to get the darn story out of me and onto the page. I'll add everything else in later

  2. Very well written and interesting, as usual.


  3. I try to end my chapters with the MC learning something surprising or coming to a revelation or hearing half a story and wanting to know the rest. This is what drives the reader on, I think.

    And of course, I occasionally do end a chapter with an actual cliff-hanger ...

  4. I don't always end with a cliff hanger. Sometimes it's a revolution. Sometimes it's none of the above! Yeah, I'm still working on that.

  5. I love a cliffhanger! With my first book I felt it didn't need cliffhangers too often even though I put some in occasionally. But with my second that I'm currently editing, I've put cliffhangers at the end of chapters. It just fits with the story I think.

    CJ x