Thursday, March 2, 2023

Dear O'Abby: Do I really need to end every chapter with a cliffhanger?

 Dear O'Abby,

I've heard that to keep readers turning the page, you have to end every chapter with a cliffhanger.  Is this true?  My book isn't super action packed and I feel like I'm creating artificial drama for the sake of it just so I can leave each chapter on a cliffhanger.  And as a result, I'm beginning to like my book less and less.  Are cliffhangers really necessary at the end of EVERY chapter?

Best wishes, 


Dear Hanger,

In short, no.  You don't need to leave every chapter with a cliffhanger.  At least, not what we would typically call a cliffhanger.  Every chapter doesn't need to leave the heroine tied to the railway tracks with the train barrelling toward her, or the hero in a truck with the brakes disabled heading for the steepest hill in town. 

What every chapter needs to end with is something that will intrigue the reader and drive them to read on.  Or, if they do have to stop (we do all need to sleep sometimes) that what they've been left with with keep them thinking about your story until they can come back and pick it up again.

So you can end the chapter with a question your MC is asking of themselves, or another character.  Or with them moving into something unknown that may or may not hold some kind of threat.  Or with someone showing up with some news that is going to drastically alter the MC's life, or trajectory through the next few chapters.

Basically anything that will pique your readers' interest will keep them reading.  A new character turning up can be a good place to end a chapter as we don't know until we read on if this new arrival is a friend or foe.  Every chapter doesn't need to end at the same pitch either.  I like to have slightly more dramatic chapter endings in my first few chapters because at that point you're still drawing the reader into the story.  Once you're past the first three or four chapters, you can assume you've got the reader hooked and can give them a wee rest from the big, dramatic chapter endings.  

Basically, as long as the end of each chapter propels the story forward, you're ending in a good place.  Try to avoid ending chapters with characters falling asleep (unless of course, you have a Freddy Krueger-esque villain waiting to terrorise them in their dreams) or doing something else mundane that won't lead to the next bit of action.

I often write my books without chapter breaks when I'm drafting and then add them later, once I've seen where the story lends itself to breaking at a moment of tension.  And if the moments of tension are a long way away from each other (or too close together), I know I probably have a pacing issue to deal with too.  But I'm notorious for not plotting (and for not writing in sequence), and if you're a thorough plotter you'll probably have that under control already!

Hope that helps!  

X O'Abby

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