Our exploration of conflict and suspense sprinted out of the gate in the first month of 2016. We have great books to read, a study plan, tools for evoking emotion and Moxie Sharpe is having weekly misadventures to put it all into practice. Exciting!
So what’s in store for February? Application.
Writing Moxie’s misadventures is a fun exercise, but, for me, this study is about turning my novel into a page turner. This month, we’ll be diving into aspects of revision where we can apply our new tools for creating conflict and suspense.
I began this focused study based on advice from a friend who said I needed to work on my chapter endings. So let’s start there. Chapter endings are convenient places for readers to put a book down and come back to later, right? Wrong! We don’t want the reader to ever put the book down, so chapter endings are tricky. We want to create a satisfying conclusion to the chapter, but also keep the reader in suspense so they will have to read the next page.
How do we create suspenseful, cliff-hanger chapter endings without being too obvious?
First, take a look at how your favorite authors do it.
I made a simple chart for exploring chapter endings. The left column is the number of the chapter; the next column is for checking if the chapter ends in a cliff-hanger and a quick note of how the cliff-hanger is accomplished followed by a column for the conflict at the end of the chapter and the fourth column is for the chapter’s final emotion and whether it is positive or negative. I have filled it in for Fear the Worst by Linwood Barclay
|2.||Yes. “Something’s happened”||Ex-wife and new boyfriend||Concern/Guilt||–|
|3.||Yes. “Is our girl still alive?”||Daughter left things in room||Hope||+|
|4.||Yes. “Your daughter’s car”||Found car||Surprise||+|
|5.||Yes. “It’s blood, isn’t it?”||Possible physical death||Fear||–|
|6.||No.||Daughter’s bad-girl friend||Humor||+|
|7.||Yes. “I’m pretty sure your daughter is alive”||Is email telling truth? And Kate’s mental health||Hope||+|
|8.||Yes. Yolanda legit. Daughter on other side of country?||Psychological death- it trust Yolanda, more mystery||Trust||+|
|9.||Yes. Picture of Syd||Will picture arrive and be Syd||Joy||+|
|11.||Yes. Yolanda not answer phone||Yolanda not work at shelter||Confusion/Disapp-
|12.||Yes. Left stuff in diner (not resolved)||Psychological death – thinks sees Syd in every blond girl||Frantic||–|
|13.||Yes. The house had been trashed||No luck in Seattle went home||Defeat||–|
|14.||Yes. “I think we found what you were looking for.”||Psychological death. Scarf from Seattle pic found in room||Betrayal||–|
|15.||No.||Can’t stay at home-crime scene|
|16.||Yes. Ian carrying blonde girl over shoulder like a sack||Question of physical death||Curiosity/Fear||–|
|18.||Yes. Found cell phone||Conflict w/x’s boyfriend||Curious||+|
|19.||Yes. A new clue||X’s boyfriend’s son||Surprise||+|
|20.||Yes. Syd might be pregnant||Fist fight at car lot||Surprise||–|
|21.||No||Evan’s sorry not good enough|
|22.||Yes. Car-napped||Threat of physical death||Fear||–|
|23.||Yes. Jumped from car||Threat of physical death only temporarily avoided||Humor||+|
|24.||Yes. A girl’s voice said, “help me”||Phone woke him up in middle of night||Concern/Fear/Hope||–|
|27.||No. Drive-by but okay||Attempted physical death||Relief||+|
|28.||Yes. Patty’s missing||Police suspicion||Dread||–|
|29.||Yes. Andy from work connect||Recent dealings with Andy||Surprise||–|
|31.||Yes. Sets up going to bar to find Gary||Conflict with Andy from work||Anger||–|
|32.||No, but intrigue||Human trafficking||revelation||+|
|33.||Yes. Place where Syd’s pic taken was hotel||Saw something shouldn’t have||Weird
|34.||Yes. Dead Kate in house||Physical and psychological death -He will be a suspect||Discovery||–|
|35.||Yes. “For being Patty’s father”||Psychological death||surprise||–|
|36.||No||Two daughters missing||revelation||–|
|38.||Yes. The bad guys reveal||Imminent death||Betrayal||–|
|39.||Yes. Has a plan||Imminent death||Hope||+|
|41.||Yes. Leaving for Stowe||Ex’s boyfriend Bob coming along||Humor||+|
|42.||No||Hands over wheel to Bob|
|43.||Yes. Is Patty alive?||Syd still missing||Surprise||–|
|44.||Yes. Bob has Syd||Patty knew where Syd was whole time||Relief||+|
|45.||Yes. Woman with gun||Imminent death||Surprise||–|
That was a great exercise! I am going to add it to the reading study plan. A quick glance at the table shows that the majority of chapters end in some kind of cliff-hanger. Mr. Barclay uses an array of techniques to keep the reader turning pages past the end of a chapter.
End of chapter techniques:
- Split dialogue
- Middle of action
- Character has a plan
While filling out the table, I also discovered that when I read a chapter that did not end with a cliff-hanger, I had trouble identifying the emotion and/or the conflict. These are the chapter endings I will look for in my own work and try to increase the conflict and suspense.
Now it’s time to apply this chart to my own work and see where I can improve my chapter endings.
I hope you’re excited for Moxie’s next thrilling, chilling, spine-tingling, action-packed misadventure coming this Sunday. Oh, the suspense!
Your exercise, what an erudite study! The MB Method. I’d love to see you apply this to my work sometime.
I usually wrap up a scene with surprise or revelation. Go big or go home. But that’s just me.
Thank you so much. Sounds like you have a page turner in the making.