Writing Nowadays–Cliffhanger Chapters

Steven Harper PiziksI try to end each of my chapters with a cliffhanger.  It’s part of a pattern in my work day.  I write a chapter until I hit page 15.  At that point, I’m watching for a cliffhanger event.  It might be an odd occurrence, a character who shows up unexpectedly, imminent danger, or anything else that will make the reader want to turn the page.  What I definitely don’t want is for a reader to say, “Okay, I finished the chapter.  I can stop reading for now.”  No, no, no!  I want the reader to say, “Holy cow!  I can’t set the book down here!”

After page 15, nearly any cliffhanger event will do.  Then I can hit SAVE and start a new file for the next chapter.  The only complications come when the chapter goes on past page 20 or even 25 and I still have no good cliffhanger stopping point.  Eep!  When chapters get long, readers also have a tendency to say, “Well, I’ll just stop here in the middle.”  We definitely don’t want that.  With shorter chapters, the reader is more likely to say, “I’ll just finish up this chapter.”  At which point, she encounters a cliffhanger and just has to keep reading the next short chapter.  So when a chapter is running long, I sometimes have to find something that’s just an okay cliffhanger and punch up the tension to make it bigger one.

–Steven Harper Piziks

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Writing Nowadays–Cliffhanger Chapters — 4 Comments

  1. It sounds to me like you’re a pantser — just winging your way down the plot, without any plan. A plotter would’ve outlined the entire work, chapter by chapter, maybe even scene by scene or paragraph by paragraph.

    • I’m a plotter, and I used to plot out my books chapter-by-chapter. These days, I write an extensive outline, but I don’t put the chapter breaks in–I wait for a good cliffhanger to show up in the actual writing. 🙂

      I did write two books by pantsing (deadlines were so strict, I literally had no time to do both a synopsis and a book), and oh! how I sweated that. The books were good, and I’m happy with the way they came out, but the lack of a synopsis and the pressure of the deadlines were so intense that after the books were done, I suffered migraine headaches for days and I couldn’t write for weeks afterward. I’d blown out my writing coils!

  2. I loosely plan my work, but I also have a goal to end every chapter on a cliff-hanger because I want the reader to keep reading “just one more.”

  3. No, you’re not a true pantser. I can’t outline — the mere act of outlining uses up the narrative drive. It’s important for me to just step up to the edge and jump off the cliff. The wings always appear.