Jan 25

Cliff hangers and page turners

Cliff hangers and page turners

‘I’ll just read one more chapter.’ How often do we say that at bed time, before starting a chore, when we really should be getting on with something else, but we turn over to the start of another chapter because we really want to know what happens next.

There are ways to make the reader want to turn one more page, or chapter….

For example we can end a chapter on a question, one that the reader does not yet know the answer to; or maybe the reader does know but can’t wait to see the character’s reaction to the answer. We can throw in a completely new fact or piece of information that looks like being a bombshell for one or more characters. We can subtly imply that a vital ‘clue’ is just about to be revealed. Or we could use the whole of a chapter to build tension or drama and stop just before the climax. Some writers leave a major character falling from a gunshot, going over a cliff, (or literally hanging from one) or apparently being killed or dying right in the last sentence of a chapter. You get the idea I’m sure.

Here is Chapter One of a story:

Marcus took Erin by the elbow gently and steered her towards a table in the corner of the patio, shaded by a large oleander shrub and a clump of Pampas grass.

The waiter brought menus and asked if they would like a drink. Erin asked for a glass of wine but Marcus ordered a bottle. He was not thinking of rushing off anywhere. He was looking forward to the opportunity of getting to know Erin better in a leisurely manner.

The chances of meeting anyone he knew here were small. As far as he knew none of his friends or colleagues had found it yet. It was a fairly new, smart restaurant, quite expensive and not really somewhere that anyone would drive out to in a lunch break.

They had just ordered when a fairly strident voice interrupted the peaceful setting. ‘Marcus, darling! How wonderful to see you. It’s been ages.’

Marcus stood up, a look of confusion and disbelief on his face as he turned. He was overwhelmed as a smart, elegant blond clasped his arms and in a cloud of expensive perfume kissed him on both cheeks and then whirled around to face Erin with a beaming smile.

‘Hello,’ she gushed, extending a beautifully manicured hand. ‘I’m Ruth, and you are?’

‘Erin, er how do you do?’ She looked somewhat taken aback.

‘Lovely to meet you. Well, darlings, must dash; late as usual. Enjoy your lunch. It’s a fabulous menu. I have been coming here since it opened, it’s a real find. We must meet soon Marcus and catch up. Bye.’ She was still talking as she waved and clip-clopped away on her fabulously high heels.

Erin looked crestfallen. ‘I thought you said no one would know you here.’

Marcus sat down slowly. He was not happy. Was there a problem? Had he been compromised?

And who the hell was Ruth?


Think about the following questions and jot down your responses in as few words as possible:

  1. What were your first thoughts about what was happening in paragraph one and two?
  2. Did your first thoughts change with paragraph three?
  3. What did you think was happening by the end of the chapter?
  4. What strategies/techniques is the writer using to try to intrigue the reader and make them curious and eager to read more?
  5. The fact that Marcus did not know Ruth was supposed to be a surprise. Did this work?

Now you are going to write Chapter Two. Try to give us another surprise or a question, a cliff hanger or unexpected ending to make us want to read on.

Share everyone’s responses to the five questions and discuss.

Share and discuss the second chapters that people have written.

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