Monday, September 21, 2009

Cliffhangers: Sinead had a.....

Baby girl! Everyone is doing great and I'm sure she's already sitting down at her computer to work over some edits. Sinead - not the baby. Though, you never know with her kids.

And while that's the best kind of cliffhanger, it wasn't totally what I've been obsessing over for the past few weeks. I've finished Catching Fire, the second in the Hunger Games Trilogy that has made me a lunatic the last few months, I read an interview with Dan Brown and Stephanie has me thinking far too much about True Blood - and I'm realizing the common bond that those three highly successful books/TV shows share is the cliffhanger.

Dan Brown, we can all agree is not the best wordsmith, but the guy knows drama. He knows how to keep the pages turning and the money rolling in - and he said in this interview that every ten pages there had to be another puzzle to solve. A cliffhanger. EVERY TEN PAGES!!!

And one of the things that made me crazy - in a good way - about True Blood were those episode cliffhangers. Holy Cats - how could you not watch the next episode with some of those cliffhangers? The queen with the blood down her leg? Layfayette's eyes turning black?

And Catching Fire - well, I pretended to be sick so I could finish the book. I cried. I laughed. I could not put it down and in thinking about it - there were the chapter cliffhangers, but then always in the middle of a chapter there would be a huge - OMG moment! The stakes get raised, things get reversed - something that changes the game. So, again, that's about every ten pages the world gets shaken up.

And to tell you the truth - I want to say - well, I write romance, I don't need all those cliffhangers. But I do. Emotional cliffhangers count. Probably double.

Now, I've stopped ending my chapters with characters going to sleep. At least I've learned that. And I try to add some drama to those chapter endings - but I think the real cliffhanger isn't edited in, or manufactured. I think learning how to write with that chugging suspense under all your words is the key - and again, I think it's double for romance. Readers know how the book is going to end, so figuring out how to keep them turning those pages is a crucial line in the sand between keeper and non-keeper.

Have you guys considered this? Are you obsessing over chapter ends? Ten page hooks?

I'm interested in what Eileen and Stephanie have to say as suspense writers -


Kimber Chin said...

Big congrats Sinead! Woo hoo, the next generation of drunk writers expands!

I'm not good at cliffhangers and ending chapters correctly. I ALWAYS try to have an unanswered question though.

Stephanie Doyle said...

Yeah Sinead!!! Hope mother and daughter are doing well. (And getting some semblance of sleep.)

For me - I'm going to pat myself on the back a little. I do chapter ends well (this coming from my editor.) In fact if I ever try to get lazy - because it's hard to have all 15-20 end that way - she tells me to fix it.

For me I always try to set it up as a reveal of information. The characters are having a conversation and then bam... at the end you learn that SOMETHING. That is vital to the story and the mystery.

Then towards the end it's easy to do cliff hangers because you can put the characters in peril and hang them there until the next chapter.

Of course in the middle all of that you're intertwining that with the emotional stuff.

Geesh... writing is really hard.

Maureen McGowan said...

Every time I think about this stuff in the past couple of years I think back to the scene sequel stuff, which on the surface sounds so pat... but I think it's a way to write to continual cliff hangers.

Goal, Conflict, Disaster
Reaction, Analysis, Decision

Rinse and repeat.

And then each paragraph being action/reaction... Of course, it's utterly crippling to try to write a first draft like this. (I've learned that the hard way.) The best I can manage is thinking about the POV character's goals in a scene and what disasters might come to keep them from it...

But it can get so crippling to overthink it.

This also made me think about Prison Break. Which in the first couple of seasons was AWESOME at the cliff hangers, not only at episode ends, but at commercial breaks, too. And I got burn out. Because I was expecting a surprise or disaster, they started to bore me. Or maybe it just got too silly... or the payoffs weren't big enough for all the cool set up they'd done.

24 last season was like that, too... No matter what they did, they could no longer shock me or really make me care. I don't even know how Prison Break ended... and I was so loyal to that show.

Maureen McGowan said...

Oh, and great insight about romances. Just because a story doesn't have life or death stakes, just because there are no monsters or serial killers, or impending natural disasters, doesn't mean there shouldn't be emotional cliffhangers, which, are much harder to write. (IMO)

Molly O'Keefe said...

I was thinking about this some more today and I think, actually my problem is that I rely on chapter ends to provide the suspense - I manufacture cliffhangers with contrived chapter ends and I think that's my problem, something needs to happen in my writing that makes it more page-turny. I think I've had a couple of books where it just worked, but as I am in the middle of a disaster of a book I can totally feel the lack.

Eileen said...

I try very hard to end chapters with some kind of cliffhanger. I've gone too far on occasion. I did one of those scenes where I ended it as the character was about to open a door and we didn't know what would be on the other side. That was probably a little too gimmicky (I might have been reading too much Dan Brown :-)).

Every story is a mystery in a sense. We're always waiting to discover something whether it's what the heroine needs to learn or how the hero will grow or what's inside the stupid falcon.

And yay to Sinead and new baby!!!

Stephanie Doyle said...

See that's the thing. I say I do them well, but it's only because when I construct a chapter in my head... it leads to the cliff.

You can't manufacture it. Fixing it - as my editor says to do - is almost impossible because it becomes inorganic.

Force them - readers know.

They just have to evolve as part of the story. I think watching TV/Movies develops our brains to think like that. I think I do them okay - because I'm a TV watcher.

I think I learned them at the hands of General Hospital, Remington Steele, Scarecrow and Mrs. King... That's right Scarecrow and Mrs. King a damn fine show.

Molly O'Keefe said...

See I think the key to a good cliffhanger is what happens on the other side - you can create suspense out of anything - but the pay off has to fit. I got so peeved with True Blood, becaue they were creating fabulous cliffhangers with wet fart pay offs. That's right. Wet farts.

Eileen said...

Nothing worse than a wet fart. Especially if it involves vampires.

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