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The Secret to Page-Turning Scene Endings

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It’s easy to surmise that propelling readers from one scene to the next relies upon a dramatic closing hook, the evocative or provocative impression at the very end of the scene.

Seemed like everyone was finding someone to pair off with. So when was he going to find a girl of his own?

Or—

Edwina looked the poor sod straight in the eye. “She’s not coming back, Edgar. Ever.”

But although hooks may tantalize, another underlying force is what truly launches readers into the next scene. This dynamic arises from the final step of scene structure: a new outcome—change.

Scenes are designed to move the story forward by creating incremental change at the plot or character levels. Effective scene structure intrinsically sets up a domino effect: The unexpected outcome of one scene sparks curiosity about how the character will cope in the next, kindling the impulse to turn the page.

This is how complete, fully formed scenes get readers itching to see how the seeds of change will grow.

Scenes Create Change

Let’s review the structure of the two most common types of scenes in a novel:

Action Scenes                                                      Reaction (“Sequel”) Scenes

Objective                                                                     Emotion

Obstacle                                                                      Deliberation

Outcome                                                                     Decision

Action and reaction scenes share an important factor in common: Their final phases are all about generating change.

In an action scene, change occurs when something (the “obstacle”) interrupts the viewpoint character’s progress toward their scene objective. This creates an unexpected outcome. Something unanticipated has just occurred, and the inevitable consequences loom just ahead.

One minute they were packed shoulder-to-shoulder in the muggy subway car. The next, the squealing of metal against metal sent the world sideways, and she was tumbling wildly into the dark subterranean depths.

In a reaction scene, the final decision phase reveals the viewpoint character’s change of heart or intentions or plans, telling readers to brace for consequences.

Gripping the zip-tie cuffs, Arjan squeezed his eyes shut against the thrumming pain in his skull. He could walk away from this life of deception and violence once and for all. Or he could seek his revenge.

A dramatic closing hook can focus and magnify this effect, using introspection, foreshadowing, or imagery to hint at the broader struggles, unresolved tensions, or profound transitions the scene has provoked. But that’s the thing—the scene itself should provoke those rumblings. When the scene clearly introduces change, even a glimmer of yearning or glint of optimism can ignite the spark that sets the next scenes into motion.

The Springboard Effect

The unanticipated outcome of each scene pushes the characters urgently into the next, riding the domino or baton-passing effect. Scenes shouldn’t be able to be shuffled about willy-nilly; plucking an effectively crafted scene out of the flow would break the chain of action and reaction that makes one scene lead directly into the next.

Readers rightfully expect the change created by one scene to be addressed promptly in the next. This propagates reader investment: hope or worry, anticipation or suspense.

For example, after a scene ending with Max vowing to leave Jonquil and return to his wife, readers will expect his next scene to begin addressing that tangle. He might be temporarily delayed by other concerns—a delicious way to add tension—but he shouldn’t blithely turn away without further thought. Didn’t that decision matter?

The domino effect of one scene tipping into and kicking off the next forges a chain of progressively escalating complications in the story. This chain is what writers are talking about when they refer to the rising action of a plot, the idea that the conflict (what does happen) and tension (what might happen) spiral to a peak at the climax. The first scene of the story sets off an unstoppable chain reaction, leading to a resolution that feels surprising in the way it happens yet inevitable by virtue of cause and effect.

Think of the scenes as opportunities to drop clues into the links of the story. This may seem like an obvious strategy for a mystery story, but you should exploit this effect in every genre. Scatter breadcrumbs or dangle questions at scene endings, then scoop them up promptly in the next scene, weaving the connective threads into a taut, vibrant storytelling tapestry.

Caveat 1: The Roadblock

Occasionally, a scene might run up against a revelation or cascade of consequences that creates a roadblock with no apparent route forward. This sort of scene—full stop, no way forward—is difficult to pull off if you haven’t planned the story before writing it. When the options are so limited that the character can find no way forward, the plot cannot organically advance—the story is muzzled.

Having the character sit around and wait for a deus ex machina (an outside force to swoop in and solve the problem) frustrates readers, who want stories where the characters solve their problems, not the author. Instead, use a reaction scene to break the deadlock, as the character discovers something new within themselves—an inner breakthrough of some kind.

Some scenes do warrant a note of finality, as a story thread winds to completion. But finality and completion signal endings, and if your story isn’t over yet, you’ll want to maintain the plot’s momentum. Most scenes, especially those at the end of chapters, benefit from a dynamic of change to keep readers turning pages.

Caveat 2: Top Spin

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Cliffhanger, edge-of-the-seat pacing frequently leverages a screenwriting technique called top spin. In top spin, the scene cuts off at the peak of tension, just as something interrupts the character’s progress toward their immediate agenda. The scene leaps from this interruption or obstacle directly to the next scene, with no opportunity to show reaction or outcome.

Think of the way TV shows cut off at a cliffhanger before a commercial break, then pick up afterwards in the same stream of action. That’s top spin in action. Top spin creates an extremely strong narrative drive.

“Done well, the drama is then built around confrontation/crisis in a sequence that never seems to stop moving,”  writes John Yorke in Into the Woods: A Five-Act Journey Into Story. “… Every scene ends on a question—partly ‘Where did that come from?’ but more importantly ‘How are they going to get out of that?’ By cutting away at the crisis point, a writer thus creates a sequence in which question is followed by (delayed) answer, which is followed by a question once again. … The technique of ‘come in late, get out early’ simply accelerates this process, forcing every scene to cut off at the ‘worst point’ of a scene.”

A brilliant resource in suspense stories, copious amounts of top spin are better suited to the screen than the page. Unlike movies or TV, which can only watch a character from the outside, novels draw readers into the character’s thoughts and perspective. A book that consistently chops off character reactions as soon as scene reaches its peak circumvents this quality, and readers may decide that the book reads more like a screenplay than a novel they can sink into.

Harnessing the Force of Change

Continuity between scenes depends on more than tacking on a provocative closing hook. The hand-off effect arises organically from scene structure, which generates a reversal or change for the viewpoint character. The allure of how the character will deal with this complication keeps readers turning pages long into the night.

Read more:

Goal-driven action scene structure, the building block of stories
Strategies for smooth scene openings

The post The Secret to Page-Turning Scene Endings appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS®.

The Bookshelf Muse is a hub for writers, educators and anyone with a love for the written word. Featuring Thesaurus Collections that encourage stronger descriptive skills, this award-winning blog will help writers hone their craft and take their writing to the next level.


Source: https://writershelpingwriters.net/2024/06/the-secret-to-page-turning-scene-endings/


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