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Tuesday Chat – How to Write Cliffhangers

May 12, 2010

Transcripts of the chat  held Tuesday, May 11th, 2010.

techtigger: Ding! 4pm, time to chat! Helloooo everyone! Today’s topic is How to Write Cliffhangers! (cue dramatic music) #thepennydreadful
techtigger: Before we get started, please take a minute to introduce yourselves and say hi! (i think ya’ll know me by now 😉 #thepennydreadful
lastsyllable: @techtigger Valerie here from http://candleinsunshine.com/asthemoonclimbs/ ready for schooling! #thepennydreadful
TonyNoland: I’m in. #thepennydreadful
FutureNostalgic: Hi all, Sam here! Can’t stay long, but wanted to take part for as long as I’m here. #thepennydreadful
Doublelattemama: hi, everybody – i’m here 😀 #thepennydreadful
AnneTylerLord: I’m here until the school bell rings (for the kids, that is) Hi everyone #thepennydreadful
techtigger: Welcome welcome! 🙂 Okay, so, we’re going to talk about a few things today – Setting the scene, tension, & open endings #thepennydreadful
marisabirns: Hello! #thepennydreadful
techtigger: Writing a good cliffhanger isn’t just about a twist at the end, or a snappy one-liner #thepennydreadful
techtigger: There’s a certain amount of build up, or setting the scene, that has to happen for it to really work #thepennydreadful
techtigger: If you had a chance to read my samples, they show 3 variations of cliffhangers for an action adventure story #thepennydreadful
FutureNostalgic: More about building tension gradually, then not following through with resolution immediately? #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @FutureNostalgic partly – You need to give readers a chance to know your characters, & care about what happens to them #thepennydreadful
marisabirns: @techtigger There’s a dilemma in one, and a revelation in another, as well as a twist? #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @marisabirns Yes – also – mortal peril, heroic quest, and imminent mayhem 🙂 #thepennydreadful
techtigger: Now, you don’t have to have mayhem and danger in a cliffhanger – that was what worked for my setting #thepennydreadful
techtigger: You could have a romantic cliffhanger — There was a world of sadness in his eyes as he said “We need to talk.” #thepennydreadful
techtigger: The scene is set – romance, sadness… tension between characters, and an open ending – talk about what?! #thepennydreadful
oodja: @techtigger Sorry I’m late to the party- was dangling from a cliff face! #thepennydreadful
marisabirns: @oodja In a romantic cliffhanger sort of way? #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @oodja *waves* Glad you could make it! #thepennydreadful
ajasont: Hi, Jason’s here. #thepennydreadful
TonyNoland: Alternating different kinds of peril can work, too. Facing physical danger, emotional, financial. #thepennydreadful
techtigger: With a novel, the scene is set throughout. But w/serials, you have to remind people about setting, & introduce new readers #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @TonyNoland absolutely – there must be something that evokes a response from readers, but same thing each week gets boring #thepennydreadful
oodja: @marisabirns Alas, no. More in a Doc Brown dangling from the clock-tower sort of way! #thepennydreadful
lastsyllable: @techtigger If each episode should end in a cliffhanger, should each begin with cliffhanger resolution? #thepennydreadful
techtigger: *waves* Hellooo more peoples! 🙂 #thepennydreadful
AnneTylerLord: I have wondered – does anyone write cliffhangers differently for Flash vs. Serial? (other than need to continue story) #thepennydreadful
TonyNoland: @techtigger Something else to try is to leave an *opportunity* as the cliffhanger instead of a fresh peril. #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @lastsyllable Depends – I like to resolve minor issues, give some closure to reader. Then intro new problem. #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @lastsyllable It depends on story too – You don’t absolutely have to end with cliffhanger. Just remember… #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @lastsyllable None of it will bring back readers, cliffhanger or not, unless reader is intrigued and/or cares about chars. #thepennydreadful
ajasont: A cliffhanger should make the reader want more, essentially. Whether it’s tuning in next week or turning the page, right? #thepennydreadful
Doublelattemama: @techtigger my girl is waking up … need to bow out but i’ll check the transcript – good chat! #thepennydreadful 🙂 <waves!>
techtigger: @TonyNoland indeedy! like the romance angle – a cliffhanger can be upbeat, a call to action, or a simply a decision #thepennydreadful
marisabirns: Should each cliffhanger be bigger and better than previous? #thepennydreadful
techtigger: This is where part 3 comes in – Leaving an open ending. If it’s obvious what’s next, why come back? #thepennydreadful
techtigger: Yes! RT @ajasont: A cliffhanger should make the reader want more, Whether its tuning in next week or turning the page #thepennydreadful
Wiswell: @AnneTylerLord Sometimes a self-contained story feels right with a pregnant cliffhanger. “The Wrestler” comes to mind. #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @Doublelattemama glad you could stop in for a bit! thanks! #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @marisabirns Actually, better to make each appropriate to situation, don’t worry about topping it – could get silly fast! #thepennydreadful
oodja: @marisabirns I think it’s useful to vary size/importance of cliffhangers, or occasionally subvert them entirely #thepennydreadful
Wiswell: @lastsyllable Can be incredibly frustrating when a writer begins the next chapter at something other than the cliffhanger. #thepennydreadful
lil_monmon: I’m here. Sorry I’m late. #thepennydreadful
TonyNoland: Yes! Strike a balance between WTF? and OMG! RT @techtigger: If it’s obvious what’s next, why come back? #thepennydreadful
techtigger: Hmm.. where was I? Oh, right! open endings! Don’t write yourself into a corner – don’t spell out what MC does next #thepennydreadful
techtigger: From example – Hero riding off to save girl. Check. But how? What will he face? Is he outnumbered? #thepennydreadful
AnneTylerLord: time for me to go – look forward to the post of entries – thanks everyone – good chat, every interesting topic #thepennydreadful
lastsyllable: @Wiswell What do you mean by beginning at something else? I sometimes “jump” to the next action…? #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @Wiswell yes, don’t mess with your readers – they get cranky! You -want- them to come back! #thepennydreadful
ajasont: Gotta run off to a meeting for work. This is fun! I’ll read transcript later. #thepennydreadful
shadowsinstone: Hello all. I’ve come to offer any thoughts I have as well. #thepennydreadful
techtigger: bye @annetylerlord – and hi new tweeples! 🙂 #thepennydreadful
TonyNoland: @Wiswell It can be OK if the cut is just to skip over unimportant details. Imp thing is to resolve the tension. #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @shadowsinstone welcome! Please do chime in! #thepennydreadful
lil_monmon: @techtigger What/Who’s the topic du jour? #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @lastsyllable if you promise some action, then talk about price of pineapples, then eventually get to plot, not good 😉 #thepennydreadful
shadowsinstone: I’d like to point out in blog format, it’s perfectly okay to skip forward to the best parts. #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @lil_monmon We are talking about how to write Cliffhangers! #thepennydreadful
shadowsinstone: The end of each serial post should have a nice ring and be appropriate to the content. Think of TV shows in the 80’s. #thepennydreadful
lastsyllable: @techtigger I think @TonyNoland answered my question. Skipping the boring stuff is fine, to get to the action. #thepennydreadful
shadowsinstone: On cliffhangers, you have to pick up on the next post back at the cliff. Otherwise, it’s disjointed. #thepennydreadful
TonyNoland: Agree! RT @shadowsinstone: I’d like to point out in blog format, it’s perfectly okay to skip forward to the best parts. #thepennydreadful
lil_monmon: @techtigger Oh Good. I just started my first weekly serial and I’m kind of playing it by ear. #thepennydreadful
shadowsinstone: Writing netfiction is way different than writing a book. Call it the ‘abridged version’. Keep that in mind. #thepennydreadful
techtigger: Yes! RT @shadowsinstone: On cliffhangers, you have to pick up on the next post back at the cliff. Otherwise, disjointed. #thepennydreadful
TonyNoland: @lastsyllable Elmore Leonard said, “leave out the parts that readers tend to skip” #thepennydreadful
shadowsinstone: I’ve been doing serials for approximately ten years. There’s little more rewarding than a favorite story that never ends. #thepennydreadful
lil_monmon: @techtigger I don’t like action cliffhangers as well as I like plot hook that pull the reader back to find out the rest. #thepennydreadful
shadowsinstone: @TonyNoland Precisely Tony. I believe that is where I obtained that advice myself. #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @shadowsinstone I agree – new readers could come in at any point. In novel, one reader, start to end #thepennydreadful
shadowsinstone: Don’t rely on constant cliffhangers or you’ll exhaust the interest of your reader. #thepennydreadful
marisabirns: @shadowsinstone Agree. I never want my favorite stories to end! #thepennydreadful
shadowsinstone: @techtigger Make *every* post awesome. You never know when someone new is watching. #thepennydreadful
lastsyllable: @techtigger Does an unanswered question count as a cliffhanger? That seems to be Lost’s method. #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @lil_monmon I know, I don’t use the action/mayhem cliffhangers too often. I like to resolve issue, and intro new one #thepennydreadful
Wiswell: @lastsyllable Not Flash, but G.R.R. Martin and Goodkind have examples of jumping from cliffhangers to unrelated scenes. #thepennydreadful
lastsyllable: @Wiswell Eek, I hate Goodkind. Haven’t read GRRM because I’m into lighter fare at the moment. #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @lastsyllable absolutely! I know I have bigger issues/questions ongoing, and solve small stuff each episode #thepennydreadful
TonyNoland: @shadowsinstone Interesting. I really need resolutions. After 20 episodes or 200, it’s gotta get wrapped up. #thepennydreadful
Wiswell: @TonyNoland In that case, I wonder if it was really a cliffhanger in the first place. #thepennydreadful
shadowsinstone: I find it also useful to vary the content of the serial post, even with cliffhangers. Ie: Dialogue/narration/humor, etc. #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @lastsyllable I try to space out the answers to big questions & making big revelations. Gives more impact #thepennydreadful
shadowsinstone: @TonyNoland Trust me, the first 7 years are really horrid. 😉 #thepennydreadful
TonyNoland: Maybe I want resolution because I’m new to the serial form. #thepennydreadful
lil_monmon: @techtigger Action Cliffhangers remind me of Batman series w. Adam West. The Joker has him tied up to a giant piano=END. #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @shadowsinstone I know for flash serials, I keep description/narration to a minimum, eats up too many words #thepennydreadful
lastsyllable: @TonyNoland No, I’m all about resolution. I want to know the story will end eventually, and I want the author to know how. #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @lil_monmon *lol* Ah yes, the cheesy Batarang special! 🙂 #thepennydreadful
lil_monmon: @shadowsinstone 7 years? YIKES! #thepennydreadful
shadowsinstone: @techtigger You give the reader what they need to form a picture. Serials are the Cliffnotes of literature. 🙂 #thepennydreadful
TonyNoland: @Wiswell If she’s hanging from a cliff, then wakes up in with broken leg at lover’s side? #thepennydreadful
shadowsinstone: @lil_monmon I adore my babies that much. #thepennydreadful
marisabirns: @lil_monmon And don’t forget there’s a “Holy Predicament!” or other with Batman. #thepennydreadful
TonyNoland: That’s so comforting! RT @shadowsinstone: @TonyNoland Trust me, the first 7 years are really horrid. 😉 #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @lastsyllable @TonyNoland I think that’s why i resolve smaller issues each episode – gives some sense of progress in plot #thepennydreadful
lil_monmon: I’m having to write out a LOT of my serial in advance because it’s a mystery. If you screw up one bit it all falls apart. #thepennydreadful
shadowsinstone: @TonyNoland Experience helps the writing and chapter breaks come much easier. #thepennydreadful
TonyNoland: Cliffhangers are minor/transient plot points, no? Big, underlying plot has to be revealed slowly, to pull readers along. #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @lil_monmon I have an outline of points that need to be hit – not all fully written out, but I know where i’m going #thepennydreadful
shadowsinstone: Personally I am against scheduled posts (for my own works). It pressures me to perform and showboat, ie: dumb cliffhangers #thepennydreadful
TonyNoland: @shadowsinstone Awesome. I only have 6 years, 10 months to go… #thepennydreadful
Wiswell: @TonyNoland In that case, the fall was important. You just skipped it. #thepennydreadful
shadowsinstone: @TonyNoland I would call those tension points. #thepennydreadful
Wiswell: @TonyNoland Resolution is crucial. I’m with you. It’s a natural end to conflict, integral to fiction. #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @shadowsinstone yes! Tension is key to cliffhanger – even if it’s only anxiety over whether passing a test in school 🙂 #thepennydreadful
lil_monmon: @TonyNoland Which means pacing is a problem for me. Sometimes wait to an appropriate cliffhangery moment it slows the flow #thepennydreadful
Wiswell: @lastsyllable I’m with you on Goodkind. #thepennydreadful
Wiswell: @shadowsinstone Why would having regular posting times incline you to showboat? #thepennydreadful
lil_monmon: @techtigger bullet points. Good way to go. : ) But sometimes you need the big guns: floor plans, timelines, etc. #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @lil_monmon cliffhanger doesn’t have to be high drama – any moment can be it. “ready? yep. Let’s go then.” see? #thepennydreadful
shadowsinstone: @Wiswell I write by the seat of my pants. The character tells me what happens next and he’s not always on a schedule. #thepennydreadful
TonyNoland: Given my schedule of late, I’m starting to agree with you! RT @shadowsinstone: Personally I am against scheduled posts #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @lil_monmon yes, mysteries are far harder to plan out than action! But, you can cliffhang any time a question is asked #thepennydreadful
shadowsinstone: @TonyNoland To be honest (and hopefully not rude) I write primarily for my myself – for grins and giggles. It’s a gag. #thepennydreadful
TonyNoland: @shadowsinstone @Wiswell Ah, I was about to say, “As long as it’s all outlined ahead of time, why would it be an issue?” #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @lil_monmon (picks up clue.) “Hello… what’s this?” (end scene) #thepennydreadful
lastsyllable: @techtigger “What’s for breakfast?” TUNE IN NEXT WEEK 😛 #thepennydreadful
shadowsinstone: @TonyNoland Apparently there are two mes. This is not surprising in the least. #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @lastsyllable *rotflmao!* That’s where setting the scene comes in – must make them CARE about the waffles! #thepennydreadful
shadowsinstone: @techtigger They will care about the waffles if they are hungry and they like waffles. ^_^ #thepennydreadful
lastsyllable: @techtigger The most delicious waffles known to man! Stolen by the dastardly Master Disaster! #thepennydreadful
TonyNoland: @shadowsinstone I think Kirk vs. Picard will be resolved before outliner vs. pantser. #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @shadowsinstone i once wrote about were-waffles… sneak thru night, to drip syrup on unsuspecting lapels… #thepennydreadful
lil_monmon: @lastsyllable @techtigger *LOL* “Where the devil are my slippers?” END #thepennydreadful
marisabirns: @techtigger But the twist is that it’s the maple syrup that’s the villain. #thepennydreadful
techtigger: Wow, time flies! Okay, to re-cap…. #thepennydreadful
techtigger: 1: set the scene – give readers a reason to care about what happens to characters #thepennydreadful
TonyNoland: Must run. Thanks for the chat, everyone! #thepennydreadful
shadowsinstone: @techtigger [snicker] That’s simply adorable. #thepennydreadful
techtigger: 2: tension – pose the problem – what is character dealing with? #thepennydreadful
techtigger: 3: open ending – Make them wonder how problem resolved, what action will be taken #thepennydreadful
Wiswell: @shadowsinstone So it’s more of a forced production issue than a fear you’ll get too showy? If so, I get that. #thepennydreadful
lil_monmon: RT @TonyNoland @shadowsinstone I think Kirk vs. Picard will be resolved before outliner vs. pantser. #thepennydreadful –STILL laughing!
techtigger: 4: don’t over-do it. Not every episode needs a cliffhanger. Or a Batman-esque one. Make ending of episode fit story #thepennydreadful
shadowsinstone: @Wiswell Yes, I would most likely get desperate. Plus I’m a renegade. RAWR. Clock rules every other aspect of my life. = #thepennydreadful
techtigger: 5: Resolution – give your readers some closure, either in ending a problem every so often, or solving minor things #thepennydreadful
shadowsinstone: @lil_monmon Mm Picard. He totally shaped my idea of good gentleman. #thepennydreadful
deargdawn: @vicariousills try this trend #thepennydreadful
techtigger: Any more questions before I have to run? (but feel free to keep gabbing here, chat about serials always welcome!) #thepennydreadful
techtigger: And thank you everyone who came out to chat, and to share your experiences! You guys rock! #thepennydreadful
lil_monmon: @shadowsinstone Yeah. I’m totally for Picard m’self. The perfect balance of stoic gentleman and eccentric looney. #thepennydreadful
Wiswell: @techtigger What values does humor have in a dramatic serial? #thepennydreadful
lil_monmon: @techtigger Round of Applause for TechTigger! #thepennydreadful
shadowsinstone: @techtigger Thank you for the chat session. #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @Wiswell humor makes dramatic moments stand out more – unless you are writing emo-fic, 100% drama gets old #thepennydreadful
lil_monmon: I wanna see people’s links to their serials right now. #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @shadowsinstone thank you for attending! Was great to hear your experiences with writing webfic! #thepennydreadful
techtigger: Yes! Check out all the serials on http://TPDonline.wordpress.com #thepennydreadful
Wiswell: @techtigger Thanks for the session! #thepennydreadful
lastsyllable: @Wiswell I went to the Whedon School of Broadcasting so humor is essential in my humble opinion. #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @Wiswell you’re welcome! Thanks for coming out! #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @lil_monmon aww, thank you! *takes a bow* #thepennydreadful
lastsyllable: @techtigger A pleasure as always, ma’am! #thepennydreadful
techtigger: There are a lot of serial hashtags: #webfic, #weblit #webficwed #tuesdayserial #webseries to name a few, along with us 😉 #thepennydreadful
techtigger: @lastsyllable thank you for coming today! always fun! #thepennydreadful
techtigger: okay gang, I must run. See you all next week for an author chat with @ajasont – same bat time, same bat channel 😉 #thepennydreadful

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 12, 2010 9:13 am

    Fabulous chat packed full of very good and interesting advice. I have certainly learned a lot and will possibly modify my approach slightly in future. Thank you so m uch everyone who took part, you’re all ace! Apologies for having to bail mid-chat – TweetDeck was playing up and Twitter was running really slow, it was becoming almost impossible to follow the thread.

  2. jimwisneski permalink
    May 13, 2010 12:49 am

    Well done here. Sorry I missed it – but I had a good reason… he weighs 8.8 lbs and has blue eyes and screams when he is hungry… my little Chase Adler was born on Sunday and we came home to hectic home on Tuesday.

    Thanks for hosting this chat – and all of them.

    Jim Wisneski

    Author of Guns n’ Graves

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