Monday, March 12, 2012

Writing in 140: Hangin' Off the Cliff with Cliffhangers

Often, I tell editing clients, "Scene (or Chapter) needs a stronger ending. You want to compel (and propel) the reader to the next scene (or chapter)." This usually leads to a talk about cliffhangers and best practices in developing them. Although I suggest several ways to work on this, I always tell clients to remember the main plot. Readers continue reading to see how that plot (and sub-plots) concludes. If a scene (and definitely a chapter) ends with no mention of the main plot, no tie back to it, it can leave the reader wondering, What happened to the story? The same way I tell my Freshman Comp students to tie their paragraphs to their thesis, it’s important for creative writers to make sure scenes and chapters close in a way that keep the reader on the story.


Shon Bacon is an author, doctoral candidate, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academically. Shon also interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy editing, writing, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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  1. Excellent insight -- and you said it short and sweet. I'm leading an online chat tonight & one thing we're talking about is both the beginning and ending of a scene/chapter. I'll be sure to mention your blog post.

  2. Amen! This is one of the main areas that separates the amateurs from the pros. It's also an area where all writers can improve their skills and take them up a huge notch. Right on, Shon!

  3. I try to vary the height of my cliffs - not every chapter needs a hair-raising view. Sometimes missing that last step as you're coming down the stairs is just as jarring.

  4. Thanks for the comments. :-D

    I agree, Elspeth. If I had another 140 words (and more), I would have mentioned also how one issue I often find in my clients' work is when they attempt to vary the cliff heights and it's not done in a strong way. There's a whole nuance to doing that, too. And when I mention tying back to the story, I definitely don't mean in hair-raising views; for me, that can be overkill and lead to some bad, melodramatic writing. I think, like with all facets of writing, there is a balance to writing these scene and chapter endings.

  5. I love this advice. It's especially important when writing from different character perspectives to make the reader anxious to get back to see what's been going on since seeing them last.

  6. This is a great post in the "advanced skills" department. Most of my clients would suspect you're implying a character should be dangling from a balcony at the end of each chapter, and would need another couple pages worth of info on what I mean by "story." So if you are confused, readers, just keep showing up here, and the whole picture will eventually emerge!

  7. Good point. Here's the way I usually create a cliff-hanger ...


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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