Thursday, February 02, 2017

Posted by Laurel Garver on Thursday, February 02, 2017 2 comments
End scenes with uncertainty more often than resolution
You've heard it over and over--readers, agents and editors love "page turners." So you work hard creating characters that readers will invest in and worry about, engage them in inner and outer conflicts, and lead them through obstacles and opposition. You have the groundwork laid. Now what?

Look at how you exit scenes and chapters. If your scene and chapter endings consistently come to a resolution, you aren't getting the maximum tension potential. First look for ways to introduce the unexpected (setbacks, positive or negative reversals), anticipation (goals, foreshadowing) or uncertainty at scene endings.

Then, consider using the film maker's friend, the jump cut. Interrupt the tense moment. Cut the scene in the middle, at a point where the outcome is unclear. In the next scene, come back post interruption, pick up again later in the time line, or summarize what happened. With chapter breaks, you simply begin the next chapter where you left off.

Splitting scenes over chapter breaks is by far the easiest technique. You'll need to add some scene grounding in the new chapter, but otherwise you likely won't need to do much more to build in suspense.

Keep in mind that any technique, if overdone, will feel gimmicky to the reader. Be sure that you don't split scenes at the end of every single chapter. For variety, use the suspenseful scene-end technique instead, for, say, at least 1/4 of your chapters.

How might better exits from scenes and chapters improve the page-turning tension in your work? What favorite books or authors demonstrate the technique best for you?

image credit: alexfrance for morguefile.com

2 comments:

  1. Terry Brooks, author of the Shannara series, taught in a workshop several years ago to always end a chapter with a cliffhanger. He affirmed that when I heard him speak again a few years ago.

    The way you put it has more finesse. And I certainly see a variety of techniques used by great writers.

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  2. Indeed, the cliffhanger technique will feel gimmicky if it's the only technique you use. Uncertainty can also include positive possibility the reader can't wait to see unfold, and getting the first whiff of it will drive them forward.

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