Monday, April 8, 2013



When I read to my classes at school and they hollered out, "Don't stop now!" when I reached the end of a chapter, I knew I had picked the right book. The kids needed to find out what was going to happen next, to turn the page, to keep reading.

That's what we all want when we write a story. We want our readers to keep reading.

I've watched hundreds of kids read books and I've noticed one thing over and over again. They can be halfway through a book and then abandon it without warning - because the author failed to make them turn that next page. I remember saying to my daughter, "I thought you were enjoying that book?" Her response - "I was, and then it got boring."

Kids can be unforgiving and not willing to persevere once their interest is lost.   

How can you make your reader turn the page? Use a cliff-hanger.   

Cliff-hangers were popular in serials in early movie theaters and in literature that was published in weekly instalments (eg. Charles Dickens). They are still one of the best tools for suspense we can use today.

A cliff-hanger can come at the end of a scene or a chapter. Think about ending with

1.  a premonition that something terrible is about to happen

     Harry had come without signs, like a big wind blowing into their lives, and in the end she knew he was going to ruin everything. - from Never To Be Told

2.  a shocking piece of information

     Inside the box a chain, with a heart-shaped gold locket, rests on a piece of white cloth. In the middle of the heart a name is engraved in scrolly letters:  Livia. - from Missing

3. suspenseful dialogue

     Ares saw Jeremy at the same time. "Hey! You again!" he shouted.
      "Run!" said Aristotle.  - from Jeremy and the Enchanted Theater

       Then I called into the cold empty air. "Help! Help us, somebody, please!" - from The Freezing Moon

4.  a question

          The girl's light hazel eyes stared at Melissa steadily. "Are you friend or foe?" - from After The Fire

5. emotion

          Melissa felt like she was going to throw up. She took a big breath. Then she sat beside her friend and said softly, "Alice, who is Tristan?" - from After the Fire

Remember: Leave the reader dangling. I have a card posted on my computer that says NEVER TAKE THE READER WHERE THE READER WANTS TO GO.

 Currently I am reading Ashes Ashes by Jo Treggiari. How's this for a cliff-hanger at the end of chapter one?

 The cramp was back again, jabbing into her side with an ferocity that made her wince; her lungs felt starved of oxygen; her heartbeat echoed in her ears. Then the crack of a branch snapping, loud as a gunshot, made her look up.

I just had to turn the page to see what happened next!

Some advice from Nancy Lamb in The Writer's Guide to Crafting Stories for Children .

Never end at endings. Avoid ending a plot line at the end of a chapter. That makes it too easy for the reader to put the book down.


Safe as Houses by Eric Walters
Based on a true story of a terrifying flood, this is a fast exciting read  and a great example of cliff-hangers.


What if . . . you  found  a copy of an old leather bound book in a dusty corner of a library? Someone has left a message tucked into the book. What does it say?

 Next week:  Are You Having Fun yet?



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