A simple breakdown for building up to the cliffhanger

Storylines built on suspsense require two basic elements, anticipation and escalation. Sounds simple, but it’s trickier than it appears (at least I believe it to be). The reader needs to feel a continually growing sense of calamity throughout the book. Think of it as watching someone going up in an elevator, knowing that the higher they go, the grearter their chances of plunging to the ground. Up and up they go, ten, twenty, thirty feet, and then they drop 15, only to climb higher again before taking another minor drop. Suspense plot try to really stick it to you with this, but that’s the point isn’t it? You want to be put on the edge of your seat.

Anyway, I’m a big fan of breaking things down into component pieces, simplifying whenever possible. I’m also a heavy plotter (I’ve blogged about this before). My method for trying to ensure my suspense works is built right into the way I structure my stories. I have a beginning and an ending in mind when I begin. Somewhere in the middle, there is going to be one of those big drops. The more classic way of thinking about this is “turning points.” Regardless, my elevator is going to rise so many floors before taking a big plunge. Each chapter is like another floor to pass through. Then, I break it down again. Somewhere on the way to that big plunge in the middle, is a smaller plunge halfway through. And so on, breaking down the turning points with another turning point, until I get to a point where I’ve pretty much laid out each chapter. The question always on my mind is, “how am I going to build up to this drop?” It works for me, as I’m a very linear thinker. It won’t work for everyone. It’s one method among many to achieve the desired results, which is a good experience for the reader. Happy reading and writing everyone, and don’t forget to enter your favorite cliffhanger for a chance to win an arc of Deadworld and Patricia Wrede’s, Beyond the Great Barrier.”

And because this is so awesome I had to put in (saw it first at the smartbitchestrashybooks blog). Don’t we all feel like this at times?


2 responses to “A simple breakdown for building up to the cliffhanger

  1. Chapter breaks? That sounds like a good topic. As for cliffhangers in general, you shouldn’t have to “try” and put them in. It should come as a natural point in the story. Remember too, they don’t have to be so action driven, which is what we typically think of regarding a cliffhanger. Really, it’s just a matter of building up to a decisive moment, and then…stopping.

  2. Every time I try to write a cliffhanger at the end of a chapter, it always feels gimmicky. I haven’t yet found the right way to do chapter breaks.

    I like consistency, which means I like chapters of consistent length, which means sometimes drawing out, halving, or cutting short certain scenes. I don’t know how to do this without losing the reader’s interest.

    Maybe you could write a post on it. Chapter breaks. I would thank you a thousand times if you did.

    That video is silly. I get that way when I read. 🙂