My favorite author is Dean Koontz. In particular, I absolutely love his Odd Thomas books. Apart from being a brilliant writer and a master at suspense, I think Dean is one of the best cliffhanger writers I’ve read.
A good cliffhanger (in my opinion) hooks the reader into wanting to read the next chapter. They simply must turn the page to see what happens next. Even if it’s two o’clock in the morning and they have to get up for work the next day, the reader is compelled to read ‘just one more chapter’.
Dean does that for me. His cliffhangers are often some sort of twist, an unexpected plot development, or simply the character in peril (hanging off a cliff, so to speak).
But good cliffhangers don’t have to have a character in peril. Look at romances. Romances use a lot of emotional cliffhangers. It might be as subtle as a character turning away from their love interest, or a longing look at another. Or perhaps it’s a witty offhanded comment made by a secondary character.
The brilliance of cliffhangers is that they aren’t always physical hanging-off-a-cliff stuff. Nor should they all be, even in a thriller or a suspense novel. You need some softer cliffhangers to give the story more depth.
But what about writing your own?
This is a tricky one. Tricky, because it depends on the story. Cliffhangers should match the style, the pacing, and the flow of the story. So if you are writing a fast paced action scene, it probably makes sense to end the chapter on something physical. But a love scene? Not so much.
It’s function is to get the reader turning the page, get them excited about reading what comes next. Therefore it’s kind of a, you’ll know when you read it, kind of deal. Or at least it is for me. Often I’ll write something and then look back and say cool – there’s my cliffhanger. I might have even written right past it with my first draft and only spot it when I’m cycling back through.
Generally though, you’ll be able to write better cliffhangers by reading more books. Especially those that readers love. If a reader loves a book and say they ‘couldn’t put the book down’. It’s usually because that author is great at writing cliffhangers. That’s a book and an author you should read and study.
My goal is to get better at them as I write more. As I become a more experienced writer I can see that Rabbit Farm wasn’t the great novel in the world (understatement?). It was the first novel I’d ever written after all. I have a few novels under my belt now, and a few writing courses. I’ve also written a ton of short stories. Nothing published under this name. Most of them just for me. Just for practice.
I expect the next novel will be out next year. I can’t see myself writing one this year, especially since the year is mostly over. But who knows what will happen? Maybe, I’ll be motivated after all?