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4 Tips for Writing Cliffhangers from Dan Brown
Author Dan Brown is known for his masterful use cliffhangers in his bestselling suspense novels. “Cliffhangers pose big questions at the end of a chapter or section,” Brown says. “Typically, a cliffhanger stops during a climactic event midway through the action instead of at its natural conclusion. Is your hero about to push the villain off of a racing yacht? Stop where the hero has the villain in his grip. Leave the reader thinking, ‘All right, I’ll read just one more page....’”
Brown suggests these strategies for creating cliffhangers:
- Move the last few paragraphs of a scene to the next chapter.
- Create a section break between your work.
- Introduce a new surprise that the audience will not expect.
- Use pulses, or short sentences or phrases to remind the reader of lurking danger.
Learn more about how Dan Brown uses cliffhangers here.
10 Tips for Writing Cliffhangers from R.L. Stine
Cliffhangers aren’t just for adults—they’re a great device to use to keep young audiences engaged in a story as well. Author R.L. Stine keeps young readers engaged through the entire Goosebumps series by employing cliffhangers. He advises writers to develop the very end of the novel first and creating at least five potential cliffhangers for each chapter ending.
To successfully build up to a cliffhanger, Stine suggests using descriptive elements to remind readers of potential danger. He also advises using these structural elements to frame a cliffhanger for maximum impact:
- Start chapters with a sense of urgency.
- Keep passages concise and cut out superfluous descriptions.
- Blend descriptive passages into action scenes.
- Stay grounded in a protagonist’s sensory experience.
- Find plausible ways to withhold key information from a reader (i.e. narrate from the point of view of a character who can’t get/doesn’t know the information).
- Open a chapter in the middle of a scene.
- Open a chapter or section with a question, an interesting fact, or a change of pace.
- Use a “pulse” to remind the reader of lurking danger.
- Use flashbacks to open new sources of suspense.
- Finish a chapter with a cliffhanger ending.
Learn more about how R.L. Stine uses cliffhangers here.