Thursday, March 24

Posted by Laurel Garver on Thursday, March 24, 2011 18 comments
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 our authors demonstrate the technique best for you?


  1. you make it sound so simple...
    back to writing! ;-)

  2. Thanks for this tip! I definitely agree with you about varying this technique, like all techniques. :)

  3. splitting scenes is a great tool, and you're right. Anything overdone grows tiresome. I also just try to throw in some foreshadowing, maybe amp up the build to the major conflict...

    good stuff~ :o) <3

  4. This is a great tip! I think I'm getting better at this, and I agree about the varying.

    Hunger Games is a great example of this, I think. :)

  5. Great post, Laurel. James Dashner is a master at page turners! :-)

  6. Great post! This is something I'm working on right now.

  7. Oh yes! I made the mistake in my last WIP of ending just about every chapter with my MC going to sleep. Not exactly the way to keep a reader up at night. I'm determined to make use of read-on techniques on this go! Thanks for the tips.

  8. I'm often rearranging my chapters and scenes because I feel as if it has to be at the most perfect moment - but not overdone, as you've mentioned.

    I think Karen Kingsbury does a brilliant job of this. Her novel, "Unlocked", is the first book that I literally could not put down.

    Thanks for these tips! I'm bookmarking this post. =)

  9. Good point about not overdoing it so it becomes gimmicky! That's the one thing I will ALWAYS remember about Nancy Drew novel chapters, even as a kid I noticed this! They'd cut off right in the middle of the tensest moment!

  10. Thank you for the tips! This is one of the few posts I've seen on how to write "page turners"--I'll have to remember it.

  11. Thanks for another insightful post, Laurel. I'm doing this now, going through in revisions and breaking chapters. Gruesome but needed.

  12. Great advice; thank you. I noticed this "trick" when I read THE HUNGER GAMES--Suzanne Collins NEVER ends a chapter at an ending, but generally in the middle of just what you want to find out.

  13. I always try to end about every other chapter on a cliff hanger. I want the reader to say "just one more chapter" before they go to bed. But you are right- we can't overdo it or the reader will get annoyed.

  14. Your title made me turn the page. I had to read your post. :)

    Thanks for the great tips. I love your blog.

  15. Katie: The scene split technique IS easy. One of my CPs suggested it, and within about two hours, I'd more than doubled the tension in my manuscript by simply changing where breaks happen and adding a sentence or so to chapter beginnings.

    Jade: It's a good tool for the toolbox!

    Leigh: Lyon's book, which I mentioned in my Tuesday post, has more details on adding uncertainty to scene endings, if you're looking for ideas.

    Janet: Glad it's useful, and thanks for the example.

  16. Shannon: I've heard that about Dashner's technique. Worth a close reading, right?

    Kelly: It's a technique that's often best applied at revision stage, once you have the plot worked out, then you find critical spots to draw out moments and raise questions.

    Jenna: I'm glad you recognized the pattern and remedied it. Better to tuck her in mid-chapter, right? Elizabeth Lyon's Manuscript Makeover has more details on adding uncertainty to scene endings.

  17. Tessa: I've rejiggered my chapter breaks multiple times in the revision process. The number and length of scenes per chapter being in balance is yet another consideration.

    Margo: I do hate feeling manipulated by an author, don't you? When there's balance, you don't notice the techniques--the story just flows.

    GE: Writing books often focus on the groundwork I mentioned at the beginning of the post, and don't look at simple tricks like the scene splitting technique, an easy change to do during revision. Not sure why.

  18. Anne: I'd argue that it's often best to wait until you have a full draft to decide how to group material by chapter.

    Faith: Indeed, the technique is tried and true.

    Abby: Mixing techniques is a good idea. Scene splits definitely can draw attention to themselves if overdone.

    Susan: thanks so much. I've been out studying post-naming from other bloggers! :-)