During a recent visit to the past (reading the archives of this blog) I came to realise that a post makes no sense at all to visitors if the writer says “the other day I mentioned a book” but never repeats the name of that book in the current post (and the visitor can’t find the post in question unless it has been linked to). It is for this reason that I must apologise for repeating myself today, but I’m reading Illusion by Paula Volsky at the moment and I wanted to make an observation.
Being a writer, I frequent a few places where a number of other writers gather to “talk shop”. I’ve been a member of these places for some years now and have met many people in this time. Over the years I’ve heard people’s thoughts on how a chapter should or should not finish and this is what I’d like to talk about today.
Quite recently a couple of members of one of those haunts said they didn’t necessarily like chapters finishing with a cliff hanger. There were varied reasons for this. One of them being that a writer shouldn’t have to depend on this type of trick to hold the reader’s attention. I totally disagree with this statement, but that’s my opinion and it’s OK to have a different opinion to others. I love chapters ending with a cliff hanger and as a writer I use this tool often. Not only are you encouraging the reader to turn the page and keep reading, you are allowing yourself (as the writer) to keep the inspiration going when you are writing, because most writers tend to want to take a break when they reach the end of a chapter. It’s much easier to pick up the story at a cliff hanger than it is when all is quiet and sombre.
As a reader, I also love cliff hangers. It might be a bit annoying when you’ve pushed through to the end of the chapter and found a cliff hanger, but you have no choice but to put the book down. However, that’s no big deal and when the book is picked up again, the cliff hanger rarely spoils the effect of the story was having on you unless the next chapter does not continue on from where the previous one left off. Now that would be nasty! If the writer goes off to follow another character of the story, then I would understand the frustration. I rarely do that in my own writing.
Paula Volsky uses the cliff hanger tool in her writing and this morning, having sat in bed reading for much longer than I had time for, I reached the end of the chapter and had to put Illusion down…right in the middle of the action. That was six hours ago and I haven’t been able to get the scene out of my mind since. The dark alley, the wintry conditions, the knowledge of close friends being shot moments beforehand and the main character’s flee for safety and knowing she has nowhere to go has interrupted every movement and every thought I’ve had. The silly thing is, I’ve read this book before and know exactly what is going to happen next. You would think that would take some of the expectations away, but it hasn’t. In my case, it has added to them. I want to put on the main character’s shoes again and experience her adventure. I’m so eager to return to that freezing, fearful night. I can’t wait to emerge myself into that world again.
But I shouldn’t do it. I have a four day plan that I must put into action. I cannot escape this world yet. I must be responsible and do what needs to be done here first. Oh, the torture!
To me, the reaction I’ve had to the book proves the characters and the setting are woven together brilliantly. It’s the kind of reaction I would be proud to give to readers of my books. Never mind if the readers like cliff hangers or not, if the story grips them so completely they cannot shift their thoughts to anything else whilst not reading the story, then the writer has done their job and deserves a pat on the back. This is what all writers should be aiming for…leaving the reader gasping for more.