Chris Eboch on Writing Cliffhangers

textMy guest this week is a well respected author of both fiction and non-fiction children’s books. However, I know her best for her sexy and suspenseful romances stories under the pen name Kris Bochkris_bock_author_photo

Let’s get to know this adventuring, witty and prolific writer before we read her blog entitled Hanging by the Fingernails: Better Pacing through Cliffhangers…

Name/Pen name: Chris Eboch (children’s book writer) and Kris Bock (romantic suspense novels)

General location: New Mexico

  1. When did you first know you wanted to writer?

I originally went to art school and studied photography. I learned I didn’t want to be a photographer, but I got a great education in creativity and critiquing. I also started writing for the school paper and got interested in journalism. I went back to school for an MA in Professional Writing and Publishing at Emerson College, planning to focus on magazine nonfiction.

  1. What inspired you to write?

I wrote my first novel – The Well of Sacrifice, an adventure set in 9th-century Mayan Guatemala for ages nine and up – as something fun to do in between looking for jobs. That led to a dozen more published children’s books (and an equal number of unpublished ones). Eventually I wanted a change and turned to writing romantic adventure novels for adults under the name Kris Bock.

  1. Are you a planner or pantster?

I’ve always worked with outlines, but in the early days they were sketchy, just a list of ideas, and the actual novel might go in other directions. As I’ve gotten more experienced, I’ve learned to plan better.

I typically do an extensive outline with plot details, character arcs, and theme. I figure this saves me at least two drafts. I even wrote a book about plotting, Advanced Plotting (written as Chris Eboch), where I share some my tips and advice from other authors.

I know some people prefer to simply write and see where it takes them, but even then, I think making an outline after your first or second draft and analyzing it can help pull the book together.

  1. Which of your works is your favorite? Why?

With over 50 published books for children and adults, fiction and nonfiction, it’s hard to choose. My romantic treasure hunting books – The Mad Monk’s Treasure, The Dead Man’s Treasure, and The Skeleton Canyon Treasure – are a lot of fun, and I especially enjoyed writing the third one because it featured brainy, prickly Camie, best friend in the first book, and her cat Tiger.

For my middle grade novels (ages 9+), I love the historical worlds in The Well of Sacrifice (9th-century Mayan Guatemala) and The Eyes of Pharaoh (ancient Egypt).

  1. Would you say your stories are plot or character driven?

Plot is my strength, so I’ve had to work more on character. Hopefully now both are strong.

  1. What do you take with you on vacation?

That depends on where I’m going. A camping trip with my husband? Hiking boots, comfortable clothing, plenty of food, and of course the husband. Visiting my mother in Arizona? Actually, the list isn’t much different, but I’d add a swimsuit.

  1. What’s your motto as a writer?

Love the process, because you can’t control the outcome.

  1. What’s your next project or what is in your future?

I’ve finished the first draft of a young adult paranormal about a group of spy girls in ancient Egypt. The first chapters are posted on Wattpad.

 

Hanging by the Fingernails: Better Pacing through Cliffhangerscairo-cliff-hanger

This is an adopted excerpt from Advanced Plotting by Chris Eboch

Several years ago I had the opportunity to ghostwrite a novel about a well-known girl sleuth. (You would recognize her name.) I knew the series used cliffhanger chapter endings. That seemed easy enough — find a dramatic moment and end the chapter.

Turns out writing strong cliffhangers is a little trickier than that. The editor responded to my effort with this comment: “I would like to see more of a slow build-up toward the intense action. In horror movies, it’s always the ominous music and the main character slowly opening the closet door that scares us the most, not the moment right after she opens the door.”

She’s noting the difference between suspense and surprise.

When something happens suddenly and unexpectedly, that’s a surprise. For example, if you are walking down the street debating where to have lunch and something falls off a window ledge onto your head, you’ll be surprised (assuming you’re still conscious). But since the surprise came out of nowhere, it wasn’t suspenseful.

When writing we may be tempted to keep secrets and then let them out — bang! But suspense comes from suspecting that something will happen and worrying about it or anticipating it.

To build up truly dramatic cliffhanger chapter endings, give the reader clues that something bad — or excitingly good — is going to happen. Here’s an example from Haunted: The Ghost on the Stairs, a novel for ages 8 to 12. The narrator, Jon, isn’t sure he believes his little sister Tania when she says she can see ghosts, but goes with her to look for one as their stepfather films his ghost hunter TV show.

At the top of the stairs, my stepfather stood in the glare of a spotlight, a few feet away from a camera. I took a step backward and tugged at Tania’s arm. No one had seen us yet, and we could still escape.

Tania turned to me. The look in her eyes made my stomach flip.

The moment isn’t bad for a cliffhanger chapter ending, but it could use some more buildup. Here’s how the chapter ended in the published book:

At the top of the stairs, my stepfather stood in the glare of a spotlight, a few feet away from a camera. I took a step backward and tugged at Tania’s arm. No one had seen us yet, and we could still escape.

She didn’t back up. She swayed.

I took a quick step forward and put my arm around her so she wouldn’t fall. I looked down into her face. I’d never seen anyone so white. White as death. Or white as a ghost.

“Tania,” I hissed. I gave her a shake. She took a quick breath and dragged her eyes away from the staircase and to my face. The look in them made my stomach flip.

The first thing you may notice is that the revised version is longer. To get the most out of dramatic moments, you actually slow the pace by using more detail. Focus on using sensory details with an emotional impact.

Powerful Paragraphing

Description can usually be kept together in one longer paragraph. Action reads better when broken into short paragraphs. Short paragraphs can actually make the story read faster, because the eye moves more quickly down the page. You can also emphasize an important sentence by starting a new paragraph or even putting that sentence into a paragraph by itself. For example, consider the following two action scenes:

Example 1:

My car picked up speed as it rolled down the steep hill. The light at the bottom turned yellow so I stepped on the braks. The car didn’t slow down. The light turned red as I pressed harder, leaning back in my seat, using my whole leg to force the brake pedal toward the floor. I sped toward the intersection while other cars entered from the sides. I sailed into the intersection, horns blaring and brakes squealing around me as I passed within inches of two cars coming from each side.

Example 2:

My car picked up speed as it rolled down the steep hill. The light at the bottom turned yellow.

I stepped on the brakes. The car didn’t slow down.

The light turned red.

I pressed harder, leaning back in my seat, using my whole leg to force the brake pedal toward the floor.

I sped toward the intersection. Other cars entered from the sides.

I sailed into the intersection. Horns blared and breaks squealed around me.

I passed within inches of two cars coming from each side.

These use nearly the same words. The only differences are that in the second version I broke up some long sentences into short ones, and I use seven paragraphs instead of one. I think the second version captures more of the breathless panic that the narrator would be feeling.

Quiet Cliffhangers

If you don’t have an action novel, you can still have dramatic chapter endings, whether or not the characters are in physical danger. In a young adult romance, for example, the drama may come from social humiliation at school and awkward or exciting moments with the love interest. Play up those moments for maximum effect.

Not every chapter has to end with a major cliffhanger. Sometimes it feels more natural to end the chapter at the end of the scene, especially if that scene is followed by a jump to a different time and place. You can end in a quieter moment, so long as you’re still looking forward.

Here’s an example from What We Found, my romantic mystery (written as Kris Bock). The heroine, Audra, stumbles on a dead body in the woods while walking with her old high school crush, Jay. For his own reasons, Jay insists that they don’t tell anyone and threatens Audra if she gets involved. Here she’s trying to decide what to do.

I thought again of the woman in the woods. Her time was up. She’d get nothing else from this world.

Except maybe people to mourn her. If she had family or friends, they must be wondering what had happened to her. I could give them the answer. I could make sure she had a proper burial.

I had to tell.

Even though the main character is sitting in her office thinking about things, with no physical action, this works as a cliffhanger because she makes an important decision that will change her future.

Here’s another example, from one of my treasure hunting adventures, The Dead Man’s Treasure. Heroine Rebecca is shocked to learn the grandfather she never knew has left her a bona fide buried treasure – but only if she can decipher a complex series of clues leading to it. Her half-siblings are determined to find the treasure first and keep it for themselves. Rebecca recruits help, including romantic lead Sam. Here they’ve deciphered some clues and their relationship is building.

The warmth moved from her face throughout her body. His hand was warm on hers. He didn’t let go, so neither did she.

They walked back up the road that would take them to the cemetery. Now all they had to do was avoid Tiffany and Arnold, get to the cemetery, decipher the last bit of the clue, meet up with Camie and Erin, and get out of there. And then they would have to go through the whole clue-deciphering process again.

Rebecca grinned at Sam and gave his hand a quick squeeze. He had been right – treasure hunting was a lot of fun.

Another quiet moment, but the romantic tension is building. In addition, this looks towards the future, reminding the reader that their troubles are not over.

Cliffhangers are a powerful tool to build suspense. Choose a dramatic moment, expand the moment with sensory details for drama, and use short paragraphs and sentences for impact. You’ll keep readers turning the page.

eboch_with_haun-210Chris Eboch writes fiction and nonfiction for young people, with 40+ traditionally published books for children. Her book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers offers great insight to beginning and intermediate writers. Learn more at www.chriseboch.com or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog.

Kris Bock writes novels of suspense and romance with outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. The Mad Monk’s Treasure follows the hunt for a long-lost treasure in the New Mexico desert. Whispers in the Dark features archaeology and intrigue among ancient Southwest ruins. What We Found is a mystery with strong romantic elements about a young woman who finds a murder victim in the woods. In Counterfeits, stolen Rembrandt paintings bring danger to a small New Mexico town.

Read excerpts at www.krisbock.com or visit her Amazon page. Sign up for Kris Bock newsletter for announcements of new books, sales, and more.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Chris Eboch on Writing Cliffhangers

  1. Great article! Thanks.B

    From: luv2write2 To: shermdogny@yahoo.com Sent: Tuesday, January 17, 2017 7:15 PM Subject: [New post] Chris Eboch on Writing Cliffhangers #yiv5096361567 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv5096361567 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv5096361567 a.yiv5096361567primaryactionlink:link, #yiv5096361567 a.yiv5096361567primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv5096361567 a.yiv5096361567primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv5096361567 a.yiv5096361567primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv5096361567 WordPress.com | djcracoiva posted: “My guest this week is a well respected author of both fiction and non-fiction children’s books. However, I know her best for her sexy and suspenseful romances stories under the pen name Kris BochLet’s get to know this adventuring, witty and prolific w” | |

  2. cyncarverauthor

    I like her use of pseudonyms, close enough for the search engines to pick up both yet different enough for the adult or children’s genre. Her tips on slowing a scene down was an excellent example. Kudo’s.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s