Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Expert Writing Tip: Perfecting the Cliffhanger

In general I try to avoid giving specific writing tips. What works for me might not work for you, nor should it. It's the same reason I don't worry about people stealing my ideas. I could have told another author that I was writing a book about a girl working for the International Paranormal Containment Agency, and I guarantee you our books would have looked nothing alike.

Come to think of it, someday I want to try that--start from the exact same prompt with another author and write a book and see what we come up with. I'm thinking something involving androids, class warfare, and Pop Rocks.

Because why not.

Today, though, I am going to be bold. I am going to say I know a groundbreaking trick to writing that, when used correctly, will make your book unputdownable. If you've read the Paranormalcy series you've probably noticed I have a fondness (and, dare I say, flair) for cliffhanger chapter endings. Those horrible/awesome last few sentences that end you swinging up into the next chapter rather than quietly setting you down from the current one. I like doing it. I think that, for this series at least, they are very effective and fun.

However.

HOWEVER.

I have been doing it wrong. Entirely. From start to finish, WRONG. Because all this time I've been wasting my good you absolutely must turn the page now material on the end of chapters, when really it belongs at the beginning. Observe the genius that is my daughter:

Chapter 3
The cool plants. On Saturday night, Jo Jo and Lena went to a movey...called the cool plants. Find out what will happen. What will happen? Something will be cool in this chapter!

HOW DID I NOT THINK OF THIS? All that time I wasted on clever chapter titles, when really I should have just been saying: Look, guys? This chapter? SOMETHING COOL WILL HAPPEN! How could you possibly put down a chapter with a promise like that? But of course it doesn't stop there. Because if you've already had cool, you have to shake things up a bit.

Capter 5. 
Something crazy just happened. Read this chapter. Something even crazier will happen!

Not only did she employ a cliffhanger chapter ending, she employed a cliffhanger chapter title, too! Look at that forward momentum! You thought the last chapter was crazy?? YOU HAVEN'T SEEN CHAPTER FIVE YET. This book is like crack! Or some other illegal addictive substance I've never tried but still make stupid metaphors about that are even more inappropriate considering the material in question was written by my seven-year-old. Regardless, again, she demonstrates a mind-blowing mastery of pacing and foreshadowing, all on the chapter title page.

I think we've learned something here. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to go edit Endlessly's chapter titles. Starting with Chapter One: Crazy things happened in the first two books. Now some EVEN CRAZIER things are about to happen in THIS book! Read it!! and continuing on to chapters like Chapter Five: That last chapter was funny. But Reth comes in this one, and he's scary funny! What will happen? Something will be awesome in this chapter!

With the level of success I anticipate from my new writing technique, pretty much they should just dedicate an entire section of the NYT bestseller list to me right now. What will happen if you write like this? IT WILL BE THE BEST. And you'll be almost as adorable as my daughter.

Almost.

34 comments:

Jackie's Little World said...

Aww, that is so great!! I can't wait until my kids are old enough to write their own books. So cute. Kids are weird little creatures!

Julie Daines said...

That is pretty darn hilarious! Looks like you've got another great author in the family!

Shilpa said...

Very Cool indeed! Your daughter is very smart! haha...this goes to twitter!

Nicole Zoltack said...

Aw, that is too great!

Frankie Diane Mallis said...

Hahaha, that is priceless!

Paul Anthony Shortt said...

Fantastic!

Jodi Meadows said...

Dang. I'm just blown away by the brilliance.

Andrea Mack said...

This is neat. It reminds me a little of Donald Maass's idea of microtension, and keeping the reader curious and wondering about something all the time to keep the story moving.

Jaye Robin Brown said...

Save that forever!

patti.mallett_pp said...

Awesome post!!! (It brings back memories of my youngest son's Ninja Turtle stories. They, too, were brilliant.)

What a clever way to get across a Powerful!!! message. Kudos.

Kathryn Packer Roberts said...

How hilarious. I love her ideas! She is ahead of her time, for sure. My daughter wrote me a story, but it had no chapters in it. She blushed when the MC met her guy and he liked her even though she was an orphan=) and then they got married and she blushed again, because he was marrying her, even though she wasn't a princess and she was an orphan. sigh. How romantic.

Pam said...

Your daughter is a future bestseller. Obviously.

Erin Bowman said...

Your daughter is a genius. Have her write your next book. Or better yet, make sure she starts honing her craft now. By 10 she's bound to be on the NTY bestseller list.

Marisa Hopkins said...

This post came at the BEST time. My NaNo book next month is going to be the best book with CRAZY AWESOME cliff hangers. Thank your genius of a daughter for me, and thanks for the epic writing advice! :)

Suze Reese said...

That is genius. And a pretty smart mom for figuring out the technique. Gonna have to take a look at those chapter headers!

Darynda said...

HAHAHA!!! I think we have definitely learned something. Thank you for sharing this spark of creative genius. Off to rewrite everything I've ever written. EVER!

Kris Atkins said...

Oh snap. I'm giggling so hard my dogs are questioning my sanity more than usual. Thanks for the laugh! Your daughter is a genius. Future NYT bestseller.

Annalise Green said...

That is seriously too adorable! I won't lie; I laughed out loud. It's surprisingly profound, too. What is the beginning of the book (or the beginning of a chapter) supposed to do other than make a promise that something cool will happen? Your daughter is just being very upfront about that.

I might steal this newfound technique from you. Just saying.

Jordanne said...

Your daughter is adorable through her writing. That is quite a feat. She sounds a lot like you :D

Lexie said...

Your daughter is very clearly a literary genius in the making. I am positive that employing this technique will make Endlessly endlessly fascinating.

Fiona L said...

Definitely a writer in the making. I mean, she's put in chapter headings and everything!

Hannah said...

Wow. Writing runs in the family. That is so adorable. You know, this technique might just help me win over an agent. Genius. I wanna know what happens.

Anonymous said...

Love this post :)

Gracie said...

Hhaha that was awesome, I loved those chapters. Hey, me and one of my friends are trying that writing-on-the-same-topic thing. We're both going to write short stories on the same idea and see what each other ends up with. :D

Myrna Foster said...

Have you read some of Rick Riordan's chapter titles?

"I Accidently Vaporize My Pre-algebra Teacher"

"I Become Supreme Lord of the Bathroom"

Your daughter's a wee genius.

Rebecca T. said...

I am in despair! I will never be able to write such great chapter titles! But now I know what to attempt as I start NaNo this month.

This is the cutest thing :) I don't think I was even USING chapter titles when I was her age!

Tasha Seegmiller said...

This is absolute and sheer genius. Some day, when I grow up, I hope I can write like her :)

patdwhite said...

Man, I bet her grandfather is tickled pink with her stories!

Anonymous said...

I will take this advice to heart for entitling my chapters from now on. :)

-Christine from Arizona

Keisha Martin said...

I don't have any chocolate, so I will leave a comment instead great post, I cannot wait for ENDLESSLY.
(If I promise chocolate will you write faster) =0)

Lissa said...

I beat you to writing about cyborgs (instead of androids) and class warfare... but not so much Pop Rocks. You're right about the completely different ideas. I'd love to see how your book turns out.

Stephanie Perkins said...

I'm smiling so big. Nayna is just the cutest.

A. Knight said...

xDDDD!

That is both adorable and hilarious. Thank you for writing that. Seriously.

- Asher (from Paranormal Indulgence)

Kate said...

When I read Endlessly, Reth better be in Chapter 5! Just saying. . . :)