I’m so excited to have Anne Barwell here for a visit! Welcome!
Anne is here to share some thoughts on cliffhangers today, and she will share an excerpt from her novel A Knight to Remember.
A lot of the TV shows I’m following have finished their current seasons with cliffhangers. When I’ve grumbled about it the most common response has been “well, that’s what you do.”
Well, yes. It is the way I roll. But in my defence when I write cliffhangers, I know what happens next, and I tend to finish chapters or scenes with them, not a book where you have to wait for the sequel to find out what happens next. Or a TV series so the viewer has to wait months for the conclusion.
But why write cliffhangers, and what’s the point of them? That’s easy. As a reader they make me want to keep reading, because I need to find out what happens next. As a writer, I want to leave my readers turning the pages of my story, so finishing a chapter with our heroes surrounded by bad guys, or losing consciousness will hopefully do that just.
Not that I would do that to my characters, of course. Hmm, actually I did both of those in my new release A Knight to Remember. But it could have been worse, I could have had both happen in the same cliffhanger – oh wait that’s the chapter I’ve just finished in my current WIP.
Cliffhangers are also good for pacing, and keeping the story moving along, especially when writing an action drama. It doesn’t have to be as dramatic as the scenarios I’ve described, but anything that keeps the reader wanting more is a good thing.
In saying that, though, there is such a thing as overkill. Everything in moderation and all that. As a reader if all I’m reading is a series of cliffhangers, it can get old very quickly. Not only that, but the poor characters need a break. It’s not good to throw bad stuff at them all the time; they also need some quality time to grow as individuals and within whatever relationship they’re in, whether it be romantic or a strong friendship. Life isn’t all action, and some reflection or realisation of what happened is also an important part of storytelling. For example character A might be struggling with growing feelings for character B, with realisation that this is really is love when he throws himself in front of something nasty to save the guy he’s fallen for. But, they also need time for talk through the consequences of their actions and the way they feel. Perhaps character B has responsibilities he can’t really shirk, or so character A thinks. Or those presumptions could be entirely wrong. They’re never going to find out either way if they’ve not given the opportunity to do so.
I want to write characters who are three dimensional and realistic, not stereotypical paper-cut-outs who run from one crisis to another. If the experiences my characters through within a story result in them growing as a person and reconsidering who they are and what they want out of life, then I’ve done my job as a writer. Sometimes that growth is major, sometimes it’s not, but that doesn’t mean either is less valuable than the other.
It’s all about balance, not just for the story but for the characters too. I also prefer my cliffhangers a bit further into the story, as it gives the characters a bit of time to get to know and care about each other. If characters don’t care what happens to other characters why should the readers?
But then as it gets to the last few chapters, all gloves are off. By this stage all the set up should be in place both for character and plot. This is my favourite part when I’m writing. I can feel the pace pick up and the last few chapters usually write themselves very quickly. It’s also when my characters start to get pushy and I know I need to put aside some quality writing time. After all there’s no point to cliffhangers if they’re not resolved, and I do believe in giving my characters a happy ending, even if they do have to work for it.
“The last of your line will be in the embrace of a dragon.”
Aric, Crown Prince of Astria, has been brought up to believe that all dragons are evil. But when he speaks with one, he finds himself questioning those beliefs. The dragon tells him to find a sword in Sherwin Forest to save not only his kingdom but also his sister, Georgia, who must otherwise wed the prince of a neighboring kingdom.
At the start of his quest, Aric dons a disguise and meets Denys, an archer and herbalist who lives alone at the edge of the forest. Denys agrees to guide Aric into the forest, but then Georgia appears, revealing Aric’s true identity.
However Aric learns he is not the only one keeping secrets. Denys has a few of his own that could change both of their lives forever.
As soon as Aric reached the trees, Denys began to run, only pausing at intervals to rest his hand against a tree and to wait for Aric to catch up. Despite the dense undergrowth Aric had noticed earlier, their path remained clear so they didn’t have to break their speed.
Aric’s heart was pounding, his breathing labored. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a workout such as this. He’d relied on his horse for far too long. There was something to be said for traveling like this, though; it brought with it a sense of freedom, of being one with his surroundings that he’d never felt before. Part of him wished it could go on forever, but his body protested the thought.
He gritted his teeth, determined to keep up and not show any weakness.
Finally Denys came to a halt. Aric stood, his hands on his knees, breathing heavily. Denys retrieved his water bladder and drank deeply. His skin was flushed, but that was the only outward sign of his recent intense physical activity.
“We need to rest for a few minutes.” Denys shook his head. “The men have divided into two groups. We have shaken the first but the second will be upon us as soon as we leave the forest.” His expression was grim. “You can surrender if you wish, but I’d prefer not to. I have heard stories of these men. Even if they are directed to bring us in alive, most of their prisoners arrive at their destination very much the worse for wear, and that’s if they’re lucky.”
Aric wiped water from his mouth with the back of his hand. He lowered his water bladder. Could this Morwenna know about his quest? Was she working for King Malachite? It was the only thing Aric could think of that made sense. If that were the case, telling these men he was Prince Brandric of Astria, and showing them the crest he carried as proof, would not deter them from doing what they’d been paid to do. From what he’d overheard, King Malachite wanted to invade Astria. The sword had the potential to be a powerful weapon in the hands of whoever wielded it. If Astria possessed it, it would give her the means to protect herself from Logan. But if Logan’s king got hold of the sword first, there was the chance it would provide a magical advantage Astria had no hope of defeating.
According to legend the sword also had the means to unite kingdoms and bring peace to the land. Naturally, as seemed to be the way of legends, it wasn’t very clear as to how it could be used to accomplish that goal. It was just as vague as the dragon prophecy that had haunted his family for generations. The price for peace achieved through a bloody war could be a harsh one, especially if it resulted in a king such as Malachite upon the throne.
“Perhaps you are right, and whoever these men are working for know we are looking for the sword.” Aric met Denys’s gaze directly. “Who I am does not appear to matter to them.” Otherwise why bring down the wrath of Astria by killing its prince? If they knew about the sword, they would know who Aric was. Wouldn’t they? But how had they found out about the quest? Georgia wouldn’t have said anything, and the dragon…. The dragon was an unknown factor in all of this. Even so, Aric knew his trust in it was not misplaced. It? Him? It had sounded male, but who knew if that meant anything. There was so much he didn’t know about this, and that in itself did not bode well.
Denys raised an eyebrow, but Aric smiled thinly. “We fight,” he told Denys, “and then I’ll tell you everything I can about what you want to know.”
Anne Barwell lives in Wellington, New Zealand. She shares her home with two cats who are convinced that the house is run to suit them; this is an ongoing “discussion,” and to date it appears as though the cats may be winning.
In 2008 she completed her conjoint BA in English Literature and Music/Bachelor of Teaching. She has worked as a music teacher, a primary school teacher, and now works in a library. She is a member of the Upper Hutt Science Fiction Club and plays violin for Hutt Valley Orchestra.
She is an avid reader across a wide range of genres and a watcher of far too many TV series and movies, although it can be argued that there is no such thing as “too many.” These, of course, are best enjoyed with a decent cup of tea and further the continuing argument that the concept of “spare time” is really just a myth.