Friday, January 16, 2009

The Cliffhanger

MORNING REPORT: Team meeting to discuss issues, questions, and exciting new ideas. Went well. Topics discussed included: title length, passive voice, how soon should dialogue show up in a novel, and cliffhangers.

One of my editors asked me today, "Do you have a particular book you could show me that does a really good job of switching scenes?"

Me: ???

Then she said, "All of my authors tend to do things like write, 'And back to such-and-such,' or 'Back in Detroit...' to denote setting or scene change."

I cringed.

"That is sad," I said.

We then got into a conversation about cliffhangers, hooks, and stopping in the middle of action at the end of a chapter. This seems obvious to me, but I guess I do run across a lack of it in books at times. Fortunately, I've not had to deal with the "Back at Sarah's house, Joni was cooking dinner when..." issue.

So, how does a writer keep the reader clear when they're switching settings a lot? Well, first, is the story structured well? But then come to mind things like: they've got good characters that the reader doesn't have trouble remembering. They have good conflict. They employ the use of narrative and chapter breaks. They end their chapters with HOOKS!

I don't know how many times I've written to an author "No hook" at the end of a chapter. I've probably written this before here, but if your character is going to bed at the end of chapter two, so is your reader. What you really want is for your reader to NEED to turn that page and read chapters three and four, etc. If you stop a chapter in the middle of a question or great action and then switch to a different setting, the reader shouldn't have as much trouble finding their way back when you come back to said conflict question later.

There's obviously more to this, but these are the first few things that come to mind.

Now to editing...

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