Oh yeah, but…

I orginally thought I would offer some writerly suggestions about the use of cliffhangers throughout a story, as they’re a significant element in the development of suspense, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it’s not so much the ability leave the reader dangling as it is to leave a crumb of information about what will be coming next. Cliffhangers rely on building up tension and then cutting the reader off at the point of resolution. To be honest, it’s kind of a cheap gimmick to keep readers turning the pages. If done well they can be effective, but they can easily be overdone. Besides, not every chapter can leave off with the main character dangling over a cliff, so to speak.

Chapters, at least for me, are self-contained blocks of the story. As such, they have a beginning, middle, and end. It’s a story within the story. So, in that sense, a cliffhanger is much like a story without a resolution. In a series, this is somewhat expected, and can be used to your advantage, since it’s not expected that every story thread will be neatly tied off by the end of each book. For instance, in Deadworld, Jackie and Nick’s relationship remains unresolved. It’s a long arc and can’t be resolved within the telling of eash story. In fact there are several elements within Deadworld that begin but come nowhere near ending by the end of the book. They are part of a bigger story being told over the course of several books. For example, Jackie and Laurel see something in The Vengeful Dead that disturbs them, but beyond that, nothing much happens with it. It’s more of an introduction to an element that will continuet o grow in book three, and hopefully beyond.

And back to cliffhangers. As they are typically thought of, I don’t believe it’s what we mean when talking about leading readers to want to turn the page at the end of every chapter. A chapter should complete an entire thought with regard to the story. If the resolution of the chapter was to learn a piece of information, the the character had better be learning that info by the end of the chapter. This is the ‘oh yeah’ moment I was referring to in the title of this post. It’s the point at the end of the chapter where the reader sees the reason for having read the previous 3-20 pages. At which point, comes the ‘but…’ There’s always a ‘but.’ And yes, it’s as basic as it sounds. The ‘but’ is your sound byte for what’s about to come. Whether it’s a sentence, a paragraph, or a page, it’s when the reader says, “Oh yeah, but look what’s coming up!”  Storytelling is a dynamic craft. You can’t pidgeon-hole notions of writing to be a catch-all for everything. You don’t have to lay down an enticement for what’s coming with every chapter. It’s not always necessary. You do however want the reader to desire to keep reading. Hints are a good way to do this. There are other ways too, but dropping the crumbs is a reliable method for readers to see what the next meal is.

Happy reading/writing everyone.

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