1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

Query regarding chapters

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by solas, Feb 22, 2014.

  1. solas

    solas Scribe

    Should every chapter have a cliff hanger at the end?
  2. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    It can be useful for getting your readers to keep reading, but it isn't strictly necessary. Sometimes it's nice to have a chapter that ends on a calm note, so if someone is reading before bed, for instance, they can leave off at a comfortable spot.
    solas likes this.
  3. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror


    In addition to what Ireth said above, look at the books on your shelf, those you've enjoyed. How do those authors end their chapters?
    solas and Ireth like this.
  4. kayd_mon

    kayd_mon Sage

    They shouldn't if it's forced. Also, I think your overall structure makes a difference here.

    For instance, if your book follows just one character or one group of characters in the same location, then cliffhangers are less necessary. Chapter breaks should have some sort of resolution, like a task accomplished or a thing learned, or whatever. Cliffhangers are good, but in that structure, it's better to use them sparingly.

    If your book is structured to follow a few semi-independent threads (as is popular these days - see ASOIAF, the First Law trilogy, and many more) then cliffhangers are better, since you actually get a break from each character's story. Then the cliffhanger has real effect, since you have a bit more reading to do until you find out what happens.

    As previously stated, what have you read and liked? I'm just gave you mine, really.
    solas likes this.
  5. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    In my WIP, I've tried to leave most chapters with some sort of question. Maybe not a cliffhanger... but something. Here are a few, for your perusal because examples speak louder than words...

    Chapter 1 end: He turned away and said over his shoulder, “He’s coming in a few days to sign the papers. You’re twenty-three. It’s time you stopped acting like a girl and began acting like a woman fit to be a wife.”

    Chapter 2: The office was still. Empty and hollow. Velvet covered every carved chair and order appeared all around him. Neat shelves with alphabetized books, lace doilies under every lamp and bust. It was almost too tidy. He had to get out.

    Chapter 3: Rafe dug his thumbnail under a wax seal and unfurled one of the documents. Dragging his lamp across the smooth wood surface, he removed the glass, careful not to burn his hand. As the corner caught fire, he stared at the blackening curl. He was no one’s pawn.
    When a pile of ash lay on the desk, Rafe leaned back in his chair, content with the freedom he felt, if only momentarily.

    Chapter 4: “Daniela!” Francesco’s voice came from the yard outside. “So help me girl, if I have to come find you..”
    Daniela looked up at Luca. “Oh, that doesn’t sound good.”
    “What did you do?”
    She shook her head to tell him she didn’t know. “Whatever it was, it sounds like Francesco was mighty offended by it.”

    Chapter 5: Light eyes surrounded by lines twinkled in the lamplight. “Tell me who you need to contact and I will gladly relay your message.”
    Perhaps he was just too sincere in his plea. Yvette’s mind prickled with suspicion. “I’m sorry, Savio Ventura. Not this time.” Yvette left the chapel.

    Chapter 6: The lamp revealed his two chestnut mares, lying with their slit necks one on top of the other. Blood-soaked hay reeked, the air so thick, Rafe had to step back before his stomach rebelled.
    Sleeve pinned against his nose to keep from gagging, Rafe stumbled backward, catching his weight against the side of the house. Pity for his slain steeds melded with anger at the blatant threat. Rafe reconsidered his plans to forgo the morning’s church service and simply pay the fine for his absence. The last thing he needed was to anger Marcello further or give the impression he was running.

    Chapter 7: Vioni sneered. “If you had given me the documents, this never would have happened.”
    Rafe took back his offering and drank it, then set the empty glass on the desk with a bang. Straightening his doublet and cape, Rafe said, “They weren’t finished! You of all people should understand why I didn’t want those documents to leave my sight. My name is on them and as soon as they left my hand, I was guilty of high treason. You may be immune to the laws of men, but I’m not. It’s only a matter of time now until my head is on display outside the doge’s palace.”
    “They are not bringing them to the doge,” Vioni said. “They will use them to expose His Eminence’s plans to the Marquis de Zanchi.”
    “The Marquis? What has he to do with the church?”
    “Nothing yet,” Vioni said, leaning his head back in the chair. “I’ll have that glass of brandy now.”

    Chapter 8: Daniela stopped in her tracks while Bastian bent to remove the intruder’s mask. Both men stood staring too long before Bastian put the mask back on. Something was wrong, worse than a dead man lying in the yard. Daniela marched up to Bastian’s side. “Who is he?” she demanded.
    Bastian and Luca exchanged worried glances. Neither indicated any enthusiasm for answering her. She bent down and ripped the leather mask free, exposing the dead man’s face. With shaking hands, she dropped the mask back in place. “What are we going to do?” she whispered.
    Bastian pulled the blanket off Daniela’s shoulders and with it, covered the body. “I don’t know,” he said, “but we can’t bury him here.”

    So... definitely not "cliffhangers", but I like to give the reader a reason to turn the page. None of these is forced, and better yet... in my story, each chapter is a day... so sometimes the events of one chapter end at midnight, where something big is happening... and the next chapter picks up at 1am, when the events play out.

    Hope my examples give you some food for thought. I can't say i put a lot of effort into these particular chapter endings, but I consciously decided where to cut them, for impact and interest. I rarely end a chapter with someone going to sleep or any other logical "ending" sort of theme. Most of the chapters end where something is happening or someone is asking a question and the answer comes later.
    solas likes this.
  6. My first novel (and its sequel) are both multiprotagonist, and in many cases the characters are not in the same location, so cliffhangers don't work very well (I get annoyed being left hanging for three or four chapters in such a situation, so I don't want to do it to my readers either).
    solas likes this.
  7. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    I read a book once, The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen, which actually had a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter. Often the chapters were split in artificial ways so as to create cliffhangers in scenes that should have continued uninterrupted, and even the more conventional cliffhangers were likely as not to be resolved within a few sentences of the beginning of the next chapter. It grew very tiresome in very short order.

    If the scene lends itself to a cliffhanger, you might as well go for it. But if one doesn't fit easily, lacking it won't cause any harm. There can even be advantages to having natural stopping points in your story--everyone has to eat dinner sometime.
    solas likes this.
  8. teacup

    teacup Auror

    They don't have to, but it can be a great technique to use.
    Just don't force it, and don't split chapters artificially because "there has to be a hook."

    If you can write a relevant hook into it, which works well, then do it. (Though some times ending a chapter on a more complete note can work better. as said.)
    solas likes this.
  9. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    One reason I loved the Dragonlance books when I was a teenager was because of the chapters typically ending with the party in danger or preparing to go somewhere. That was one of the reasons I read so many of the books because they never let up. While I don't think cliffhangers are absolutely necessary, I'm more likely to finish a book if the chapters give me a reason to continue on. Maybe this effect works better for action/adventure kind of novels. I don't really expect this in every single novel I read.
    I agree with kayd_mon that this worked to good effect with me. This had a lot to do with having my favorite characters and I'd want to continue on reading to see what happened to them. This can also be the product of having a book with lots of good tension. If the tension is ratcheted up, then this is really great.

    Spoiler ahead:

    When Ned is executed in the first book, it went directly to another POV. I remember being so frustrated that I couldn't find out what would happen next immediately, but at the same time I needed the chance to come down off that huge event. I think if Martin would have went right into the aftermath of Ned's execution in the next chapter, it might not have been as effective in my view. Maybe it would have, but I liked the way he did it.
    solas likes this.
  10. solas

    solas Scribe

    Thanks to all! Now don't go flipping out at me regarding the books I have read....I read mostly memoirs and non-fiction BUT my favorite fictional writer is Dan Simmons (The Terror, Carrion Comfort, etc) Starting to read Hyperion which is more fantasy than horror. I haven't read fantasy in a long time. But I have read dozens of excepts (this really does not count) I believe I have a good story and when I said I was in the editing phase,(In another thread) I did not just mean grammar...I am changing the story a bit in hopes of making it a better read. I also have two protagonists...so every other chapter is a different story until the last few chapters. Years ago, I read a couple of books by James Patterson and recall his chapters were very short with a cliffhanger. After picking up a book by Nicholas Sparks, I threw the book across the room in disgust and stopped reading fiction...LOL! That is not entirely true. Just started to be more selective and not follow the NY Times Bestseller List! kayd_mon gave me an idea for a new thread.:D
  11. stephenspower

    stephenspower Inkling

    I disagree entirely. The genius of Tom Clancy's books--at least the ones before "Cardinal of the Kremlin," after which I gave up on him--were that each chapter started at the height of an action, resolved it in the middle of the chapter and left off at the height of another action. The opposite: starting your readers at the bottom of a hill, lifting them over the hump in the middle, and leaving them at the bottom on other side, drains all the energy out of a book. Maybe each Clancy chapter didn't end in a cliffhanger per se, but the chapter ended with the reader wanting more and asking, "What's next?" They were at the top of the hill, full of potential energy, wanting to race down and become kinetic. And that's the key to keeping a reader moving through a novel.

    Hemingway incorporated this idea into his writing strategy by never ending a day's writing at a resolution, instead ending in the middle of something so he had someplace to begin the next day. I would suggest adapting the same attitude toward creating the reading experience for your book, however satisfying it might be as a writer to wrap up a chapter with a neat bow and say, "Good. Done." Readers want resolution so leave things messy and they'll want to keep reading to clean things up.
    J. S. Elliot likes this.
  12. Miyran

    Miyran Dreamer

    It's doesn't have to be, it really depends on the situation and what the main focus of the chapter is.
  13. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    No it doesn't have to. It all depends on the story your writing. To my understanding, thrillers do cliffhangers a lot. It works because thrillers generally are smaller books, and their stories work well with this format.

    Brandon Sanderson, who writes door stops, says he likes to sometimes end his chapters with a satisfying conclusion, a logical stopping point for the reader. Most will say that's a no-no. You never want a reader to put down your book, but if the reader has committed to reading a +400k tome, giving them a point to stop and breath will probably be more appreciated than not and won't affect if a reader picks up the book again.

    For myself, I like to vary it, but I always try to leave at least a small hook, a story question, that leads into the next chapter unanswered.

    I don't think it matters if you cliffhanger or not. If they read like me, I just read the beginning of the next chapter to resolve the cliffhanger then I goto bed. IMHO it's like any other writer's tool. Use it too much or not in the right way, the reader will notice and throw your book across the room.
    teacup likes this.
  14. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    Sanderson doesn't need cliffhangers on a micro level because his books are essentially one giant cliffhanger. He spends hundreds of pages setting up a conflict, letting readers see each piece that will eventually come into play, and then towards the end everything starts happening at once. I think it works better than creating micro conflicts that always end in success for the heroes (although it could be inferior to micro conflicts in which some of the heroes fail and get killed off.)

Share This Page