May 04 2010

End Your Chapters or Issues with a Bang

Published by at 8:46 pm under Plotting

Especially early on, end your chapters or comic book issues with a cliffhanger to keep readers hanging on.  That doesn’t mean that you have to place a character in grave physical danger.  Here are some other options to convince readers that something interesting is just around the corner.

  • A new character makes an exciting entrance.  Somebody that enters a scene doing something unusual will probably pique our attention more than somebody that just sort of ambles on stage.  For example, if Amy is working for a debt collection agency, it probably wouldn’t be very interesting if her new partner just walked up and introduced himself like anybody else would.  But if the partner walked into her office wearing a bulletproof vest or SWAT gear, then we’d wonder what Amy had gotten herself into.
  • The reader and/or character(s) learn or find something shocking or fascinating. For example, you can reveal the tip of a new iceberg.  “Detective Smith had been so sure the butler was the killer, but he had to reexamine that hypothesis after discovering the butler’s decapitated body stuffed under the kitchen sink.”  What we learn for sure (that the butler is dead) is not quite as interesting as the questions it raises: If he’s not the killer, then who?  What else did we get wrong about the case?  Why kill the red herring?  Seriously, who stashes a body under a sink?  It’s what we don’t know that will make us want to keep reading.
  • Foreshadowing danger. Detective Smith finds another decapitated body, but this time the killer has painted a message on the wall with the victim’s blood.  YOU’RE NEXT, JIM.  Who’s Jim?  Why does the killer want him dead?  Can the detective save Jim in time?  Why would the killer leave a message?  Please note that this danger does not have to be physical–it just needs to threaten something really important to the character.   For example, if the protagonist is the new girl at school, you might end a chapter with her inadvertently causing some grave slight to the head cheerleader.  We’ll worry about how the cheerleading squad will get back at her.
  • A character is placed in immediate danger. In silent films, this meant tying up the damsel to the train tracks, but it doesn’t have to be physical or involve an antagonist.  For example, if Ironman’s flying around and suddenly his jets cut out.  Or if a recovering alcoholic (like, ahem, Ironman) reaches for a beer.
  • Something interesting is about to happen or starts to happen.
  • The characters are on the verge of doing something interesting. After Caesar crosses the Rubicon, heads are gonna roll.  The only question is whose.
  • The characters are introduced to an exciting (often mysterious) new location. Something that makes us wonder “what’s gonna happen here?”  For example, if the characters discover a secret room in somebody’s house, what will the characters find there?  Why was it being hidden?  What else is the character hiding?  How far would the hider go to keep it hidden?

Cliffhangers are even more important for comic books, I think.  A comic book writer needs to push readers to find and buy the next issue, which takes more effort than flipping to the next chapter of a novel.

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13 responses so far

13 Responses to “End Your Chapters or Issues with a Bang”

  1. Tomason 13 Apr 2016 at 7:43 pm

    Then I think I did well with the ending of the preface and the first chapter. Particularly on the latter: it introduces a new enigmatic character (no, no THAT enigmatic character) just after the character has done something exciting that also revealed something interesting about themselves. Seriously, when I reached that part I just knew that I had to stop writing and start I new chapter. I hope that the other chapters can keep up with it, but I think that they’ll do, considering that I have found this guide. Thus article is really helpful!!!!

  2. Erikon 16 Dec 2016 at 10:43 am

    Even though my comment is only partially related, I was looking for some input on my comic book character. His ‘enhancement’ is captain america’s, but a bit stronger, and at the end of issue 1, he is going to be shot by a fully automatic rifle. I can’t decide to make him bullet proof/resistant, or give him body armor. The setting is a mix of fallout wastelands, bioshock/ dystopian territories that have a distinct theme (i.e. ones the most technologicly advanced, another is roman+medival knights, another is old world values, etc.)

  3. Nixon 16 Dec 2016 at 3:21 pm

    Ref: Erik 16 Dec 2016.
    Is the weapon in question an AR 15/M16, shooting 5.56mm ammo’, or perhaps the old American M14/British SLR, using 7.65mm ammo’?

  4. Erikon 16 Dec 2016 at 11:24 pm

    @Nix
    Most likely a (modified) AR 15.

  5. B. McKenzieon 17 Dec 2016 at 11:48 am

    “Even though my comment is only partially related, I was looking for some input on my comic book character. His ‘enhancement’ is captain america’s, but a bit stronger, and at the end of issue 1, he is going to be shot by a fully automatic rifle. I can’t decide to make him bullet proof/resistant, or give him body armor. The setting is a mix of fallout wastelands, bioshock/ dystopian territories that have a distinct theme (i.e. ones the most technologicly advanced, another is roman+medival knights, another is old world values, etc.)”

    What sort of consequences are you thinking about for a character getting shot with a rifle? That sounds pretty serious. (Theoretically, the character might get lucky with no bones shattered or internal organs severely damaged but I wouldn’t recommend avoiding serious consequences altogether, because that would probably limit dramatic potential of combat moving forward).

  6. Nixon 17 Dec 2016 at 4:07 pm

    Ref: B. McKenzie 17 Dec 2016.
    This is more a ‘How Superpowers Work’ subject with regards to Erik’s reply.
    There are web sites dedicated to how strong, fast, tough and how fast superheros’ heal. There is allot of BS out there, but this can help in building a model for a character.
    However, it is the drama of the situation that is the most important factor.

  7. Erikon 17 Dec 2016 at 8:15 pm

    @B. McKenzie
    Consequences of him being bullet resistant himself is that smaller rounds (like a pistol) would break skin, and embed itself about 2 cm deep. The larger the round, the deeper it goes, but I was also considering giving him body armor, with brusing, and not making him bullet resistant. I can’t decide whether to start the second issue with him getting up and saying something blunt and obvious(that hurt), with bullet holes, or say something blunt and obvious with his now exposed body armor with bullet holes.

  8. B. McKenzieon 18 Dec 2016 at 2:05 pm

    “I can’t decide whether to start the second issue with him getting up and saying something blunt and obvious(that hurt), with bullet holes, or say something blunt and obvious with his now exposed body armor with bullet holes.” If getting shot isn’t a serious situation, I’d probably pass on this submission because it undercuts the climax of the first issue. I think you’d be at a serious disadvantage compared to submissions where the stakes are more real. (Please disregard if getting shot actually is a serious situation).

  9. Erikon 18 Dec 2016 at 10:56 pm

    @B. McKinzie
    I think I won’t make him bulletproof, and his body armor will be unusable after that scene. Thanks for your input. And I planned on his comment to be humorus, as he’s been in worst scenarios that getting hit with armor on.

  10. (o_n')on 19 Dec 2016 at 11:04 am

    Even you are wear a something like a bulletproof vest, you still be hurt by the recoil. I only imagine the pain would be similar to I once feel from horse on to pole with stomach first. I think guns is best to let out(especially big ones), unless the things get really serious(like there is something at stake). I mean it is not everyday Rote Arme Fraction robbering a bank transport. But comedically underplaying a situation, could set off the character is stupid(possible too stupid to die) or better a overconfident jerkass, double points if the person who shot at him, actually managed to hit him in a unprotected place after his comentary before your hero take the guy down.

  11. B. McKenzieon 20 Dec 2016 at 8:32 pm

    “But comedically underplaying a situation, could [develop the] character as stupid (possibly too stupid to die) or better a overconfident jerkass…” I’m optimistic that quipping after getting shot shouldn’t unintentionally develop a character as stupid. I think comic characters (even some that are otherwise very intelligent and/or tactically sound) frequently take a lot of liberties with talking at times when it wouldn’t be smart to do so. Readers should cut you a lot of slack there unless you were deliberately developing him in a non-intelligent direction. (If that were your goal, you’d have to go a lot further than “That hurt”).

  12. Erikon 20 Dec 2016 at 10:14 pm

    @B.McKenzie and (o_n’)
    My intent for him to say something like that(may not simply be ‘that hurt’) is to show he’s a smart-alec. And he will have plenty of moments to show his intelligence, and his impulsive behavior.

  13. B. McKenzieon 22 Dec 2016 at 12:12 am

    “My intent for him to say something… to show he’s a smart-aleck.” I wouldn’t recommend taking this particular moment for a cocky quip — I think it’d probably undercut the seriousness of the danger. However, I don’t think “that hurt” is either cocky or a quip, particularly if the gunshot was serious. I think serious pain is a common reaction to getting shot. Contrast to someone laughing off getting shot*, taunting the shooter, making a joke, etc.

    (*Earlier I suggested that “That hurts” might come across as comedically underplaying getting shot. While you could theoretically play “That hurts” in a sarcastic way with context/delivery, in retrospect, it feels much more natural as a way of expressing that the situation actually is pretty serious.

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