Freak-Their-Freak Cliffhangers & More

Writerly advice from the writing addicted: Don’t forget to freak-their-freak. Readers WANT to shake the book violently, scream at the what-the-heck-just-happened moment and then dive back in before the moment escapes them. If you read as much as I do, and I assume if you’re reading this blog, you are a voracious reader, then you know what I’m saying.

It doesn’t matter what genre you write. It doesn’t matter how old you are. We want a larger than life Holy-Frickin-Cow moment as often as possible. My kids beg for more every night because childrens books have the cliffhanger chapter ending on lock. They KNOW it. A good romance writer leaves you thinking? Is that IT? They’re walking away? or OMG her ex is back? Or KISS ALREADY!

If you’re writing suspense, you should be all over this.

Have you made each chapter in your WIP a separate chunk of material? It should have a point. There should be a beginning, a middle and an end. Unlike the book itself, the chapter ending should stop on a tense note or turning point so the reader needs to turn that page. The beginning of the next chapter should work out that previous conflict and build to the next one. Keep the reader on the edge of their seat.

In addition to the cliff hanger chapter endings, don’t forget to add over the top, believable but unlikely to happen in an everyday situation events. I hate when I read something and roll my eyes thinking “That’s so fake. This was contrived. Never happen. Don’t believe it.” BUT I LOVE to read something that flows right over the edge where I know it could happen and the event triggers something: embarrassment, passion, fear, excitement, then I squeal and keep reading.

I beta for many people these days. One thing I notice in the newer writer is their story telling. Its easy to fall into a narrative. Readers don’t like narrative. We want to jump in and assume the personality of the MC. I want to feel like I can see, hear, smell, taste, experience what they’re doing. Writing isn’t telling a bedtime story. It’s a whole different art form.

Make the events count, keep them swirling. Some large events take center stage, while others wait then return. Keep that MC treading water without catching too much of a break. Just like real life, we juggle all the crazy. Kee your MC busy. If its not her house exploding, it’s being late for work. Vary the stress and keep it coming! I hate when my house explodes and my boss jumps my case because it made me an hour late for work. I can’t afford to lose my job now, I have to rebuild my house! Where am I going to stay now? I’m homeless….enter ex-boyfriend who wants to reconnect but I just blew him off the night before. Now, I gotta crawl back begging for a couch to sleep on  BUT boss catches me and yells at me to get to work, then ex’s new woman walks up and glares. He didn’t mention her when he was trying to hook up with me five minutes ago. Back to no place to stay, plus he’s all satisfied I tried to make up and she’s my new enemy. Crap. My boss is still staring. I’m gonna get written up. Text from insurance company, explosion was intentional so an investigation will lead to longer cleanup time. Ahhhhhhhhh!!!!

Okay, so that was off the top of my head. All could and maybe have happened to you, except the explosion, but it wasn’t a unicorn, so you believed me. You get behind the boss and boy drama and the poor woman is going in circles now. Voila! I just freaked-her-freak.

I’d love to hear some of your fantastic ideas for keeping those MCs on the edge!

7 comments to Freak-Their-Freak Cliffhangers & More

  • DUO

    Love this and totally agree – the more emotionally engaged you can get your readers, the better. It’s what makes them recommend your book to their friends, and makes them buy your next.

  • I love your idea of resolving the previous conflict and building into the next. It’s a bit like they say make sure to have tension on every page, but it’s better, and easier to pull off.

  • Who can say no to a good cliff hanger? I like chapters that are short. And I like when chapters end in cliff hangers. Some of my favourite books are those that you get to the end of the chapter, and it’s one of those “I can’t wait to see what happens next” moments… and you look at the next chapter and see it’s only 4 pages and you think to yourself… oh why not, I’ll just find out what happens… next thing you know it’s 3 in the morning and your book is finished.

  • “…but it wasn’t a unicorn, so you believed me.”
    Epic win, Julie!!

    Ending each chapter on a cliffhanger is hard for me. I do think you have to be careful that it lends to the story itself though. Too many cliffhangers could exhaust or annoy a reader if it seems gimmicky.

  • Julie Anne Lindsey

    Hi Everyone! Thank you for your comments! Sorry it took so long for a reply. It’s an errand running day over here LOL.

    Cliffhangers keep readers reading, and yes like everything else can become cheesy if you let it. But, like life has its continual cycle of calm and crazy, those “Whoa doggie!” moments can be used strategically to end chapters and keep pages turning. Janet Evanovich is great at this. Poor Stephanie Plum no sooner has a victory than the next issue needs her attention and you MUST turn the page to know what she’ll do about it.

    Thanks everyone! ANyone want to share some of their MC’s lists of turmoil?

  • Austin! I also have to say I too LOVE a short chapter! I do it every time. I think oh, 6, 8 pages. I’ll just finish one more LOL and those little hooks keep me going until the book has ended and the sun is up! LOL Its fun to hear I’m not the only one!!! Thanks!

  • I’m so wound up after reading this post, I need to pop a chill pill with a Merlot chaser. So much suspense and cliff-hanging not good for my delicate nerves!

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