Rewriting your scenes will require attention to each chapter’s ending scene. At the end of every chapter, you need your readers to turn the page. Reader engagement will be higher if your last scene in a chapter pulls readers to the next chapter.
Writing Tip for Today: Let’s examine a few ways you can improve your chapter’s ending scene.
What about Cliffhangers?
Many novelists turn to cliffhangers as a way to keep readers reading. Once the realm of serial films or mystery novels, these days more and more writers in all genres use cliffhangers to propel readers. What’s a cliffhanger? A cliffhanger is a plot device marks the end of a section of a narrative with the express purpose of keeping audiences engaged in the story.
In novels, the end of the last scene in a chapter is left unresolved, so as to propel readers into the next chapter. We’ve discussed how every scene must have a purpose, and in the end, the protagonist wins, loses or it’s a draw. In a cliffhanger ending, the tension rises steeply in the scene, only to break off just before the scene’s outcome.
A good cliffhanger helps readers become emotionally involved with the scene’s outcome. Readers who are “rooting” for the protagonist to win the scene’s goal are compelled to find out (in the next chapter) if the goal is realized. The main ingredients to a good cliffhanger are rising tension and reader emotional connection. Readers who don’t care won’t care whether the protagonist wins or not.
A good cliffhanger helps readers become emotionally involved.
Where’s the Tension?
When readers are invested emotionally, they can only buy into that feeling if readers believe there’s a chance the protagonist will lose and things will get worse. You, as writer, must mine reader emotion with tension. Tension and conflict are vital to all reader engagement, but tension doesn’t always mean physical conflict although it can.
Psychological and emotional tension tap into readers’ deepest fears and needs. This means that your readers must see the antagonist and obstacles as worthy. We’ve talked a lot about stakes being high enough, and your protagonist having sufficient passion for the goal. Before you can convince readers to care, both your goal and your protagonist’s desire for that goal must pass the “So what?” test.
If your protagonist doesn’t win the goal, so what? If the obstacles are too weak to make the goal seem worthy, tension will melt away. In each scene, marching to the climax, your protagonist must lose quite a lot and then figure out new strategies and new passion to try again, only to come up against even stronger obstacles.
Split Resolution, not Scene
Some writers attempt to write suspense at the end of a chapter by splitting a scene between chapters. While this technique can be useful, be careful. If you don’t use enough of the scene to generate high tension, you lose momentum.
If you write that ending scene as a cliffhanger, lead readers up the tension ladder to just before the scene is decided. Be sure to inject protagonist and antagonist emotion in a way that builds on reader hopes that the protagonist must win.
Balance your protagonist’s outer conflict and inner conflict until the struggle seems as if the protagonist will lose. In the last few lines of the scene, lean more heavily on your protagonist’s inner conflict. Play up that character’s fears that he/she can’t win the scene’s goals. Readers will be more likely to turn the page if they are privy to the protagonist’s inner thoughts and feelings, which should make readers care enough to see what happens in the next chapter.