Monday, August 1, 2016

August Writing Challenges: Day 1 - Plot Twists

August. The summer is nearly over. Kids are going back to school. You now have some time on your hands.  Okay, you still have a list of chores a mile long, but let's put writing at the top of the priority list, okay?

I am going to challenge you with a writing prompt every day this month. Are you up for it? I hope so.

The writing challenges will be about a variety of topics and hopefully cause you to dig into your writing toolbox to complete with emotional skill.

Watch out, I just might throw in a fun one, well, just for fun!

For the first challenge we're really going to go deep.

Plot twists, cliffhangers, and page-turners

Writers have been using techniques to keep readers captivated. And, confess, we've all been there.

How about this? It's late, and I'm tired. After this chapter, the lights are going out and I'm going to bed.

Then there's a cliffhanger, a shocking development in the story. Forget sleep! I have to find out what happens next.

Some writers are criticized for overusing these devices or for planting twists that are contrived or forced. A good plot twist or cliffhanger is natural to the story and doesn't feel like the writer strategically worked it in.

Some stories feature major twists in the middle of chapters. It's placing such a twist at the end of a chapter that turns it into a cliffhanger. Soap operas and television dramas are known, loved, and loathed for their application of these devices. It's how they hook viewers, and it's a way you can hook readers.

Each writer has to decide whether to use these techniques in storytelling. You might think they're too strategic or rob your story of its artfulness. Or maybe you like the exciting edge that a good twist or cliffhanger brings to a story.

Here's your writing challenge for today:

Write an outline for a scene or chapter that ends on a cliffhanger. Approach the cliffhanger by building tension to the moment:

For example: The bad guys are chasing the good guys. The bad guys are gaining on them. They're getting closer! One of the bad guys draws his gun, lifts it, cocks it, and aims right at our hero. He pulls the trigger.

See you next chapter!

You can also plant a cliffhanger that comes out of nowhere. The chapter is winding down, everything is moving along as expected and suddenly a character walks into a room and tells her ex-lover that she's pregnant and he's the father. WOW!

Both types of cliffhangers work equally well.

Here are some tips to help you write your challenge. The best cliffhangers leave huge questions hanging in the air. Who did it? What just happened? Will they survive? How is that possible? What will happen next?


For EXTRA CREDIT, you can expand on this challenge by fleshing out a scene that ends on a cliffhanger (instead of outlining.) To expand further, write the follow-up scene and satisfy the reader's curiosity by answering the big questions raised by your cliffhanger.

If you want to be a commercially successful author, you will probably find that mastering the cliffhanger is a huge asset to your writing skills. The cliffhanger is almost mandatory in horror and mystery genres, so if that's what you want to write, you'll need to be able to execute a good clincher.