1. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    ending with disaster

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Tesoro, Dec 27, 2011.

    In nearly every how-to-book I've read about writing the author always tells the reader to end each scene with a disaster! Always!
    Do you always end each and every scene with a disaster? What qualifies as a disaster? Everything that doesn't end up like the character hoped? Or does it have to take the story in a new direction?
     
  2. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I always try to end each chapter with a question - at least in the mind of the reader. It may be of disaster magnitude - or it may be of a much calmer tone - but it's always a question the reader needs to have answered.
     
  3. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    What qualifies as a "disaster" to me is anything that is an unanswered question or plot point. And it can be good as well. Imagine you are writing a story about a sports team playing in the final game of the tournament and it's late in the game and they are down by so much and struggling and blah blah blah whatever. Then out of no where the star player that you thought had been injured earlier in the game came back on the field... and now it's "serious". The moment the star player first comes out of the tunnel could be a place where you end a chapter.
     
  4. Toriea
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    Toriea New Member

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    Ending some chapters on a cliff hanger, or disaster, is a good idea; but not every one! You do need some that end on a good note, otherwise there is a risk of putting off some readers from carrying on with the story.
     
  5. Dante Dases
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    Dante Dases Contributing Member Contributor

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    And this is why, as a rule, I don't read those how-to guides. Advice like that is rubbish. It creates stories where there's little variation from scene to scene. Your reader knows something will go wrong. More important is that each and every scene and chapter does something to advance the story. Disaster isn't a prerequisite in that equation. A chapter might lay plans to do something, or introduce a character, or advance a theory, or have some serious action. There needs to be variation at the end of each chapter. Sometimes it may be that something is resolved at the end of a chapter, or there may be a cliffhanger. Trying to work a disaster in just results in contrived events which leave the reader unsatisfied. There needs to be a natural flow.

    Shadowwalker, that's not a bad way of working. I much prefer that to 'every chapter must end with a disaster'.
     
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  6. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Don't have a cliffhanger or a disaster, ever. Some readers, like myself, loath them. They are overdone, and it's the mark of a writer who knows their story is so boring they know they need it.

    Instead of being lazy and VERY unoriginal, why not keep your reader interested with actual people for characters instead of cardboard cut-outs, have humor, wit, philosophical problems, and write in an interesting way. Make your reader laugh and think, and make them feel a part of what's going on. That's how you really entertain people.
     
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  7. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Wow, good points everyone. Interesting to hear your opinions on this. I like shadowwalkers suggestion of finishing with a question to be answered. Dante and Lemex, i think I agree with you too, it sounds a quite unoriginal and predictable to me, that is why I needed to hear other peoples view on this! Making the readers care about the character and wanting to know what will happen to them next must be better than any old cliffhanger, but of course that can be a nice change too, from time to time.
     
  8. Anarchist_Apple84
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    Anarchist_Apple84 Senior Member

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    Everything in moderation. Overuse it and it will quickly become stale causing your reader to stop reading, obv not a good thing.
    Lemex's opinion is valid but I feel a little harsh.

    "Instead of being lazy and VERY unoriginal, why not keep your reader interested with actual people for characters instead of cardboard cut-outs, have humor, wit, philosophical problems, and write in an interesting way. Make your reader laugh and think, and make them feel a part of what's going on".


    I like to include a good number of those things into my writing, I pride myself on creating realistic characters and dialogue and I love to challenge the reader, but its also nice to throw a spanner in the works sometimes, to get the reader to literally take a step back and think "did that really happen?!"

    If anything, the more the reader cares about your characters, the more impact a well timed disaster will have. I can obviously understand his point they're overused, my god are they overrused - but if done properly, as in infrequently and timed well, they can be very effective.
     
  9. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    There are very few disasters in the stories I write. I can't end chapters with disasters. I like to try to end them with something for the reader to think about. Maybe a deeper insight into the characters, or some beautiful image, or a question about which way the plot will turn. If I'm very lucky, I can get the reader pondering an interesting philosophical point, something about the nature of life. At least, that's my ambition. An endless sequence of cliffhangers, like The Da Vinci Code, just makes me want to throw the book across the room and shout to the rafters that the writer is a hopeless hack. In some cases, a very financially successful hack, but still a hack, and an embarrassment to literature.
     
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  10. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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    Yes, the Da Vinci Code is a good (as in bad) example of the novel that ends every chapter on a cliff hanger. It might make the general reader turn the page, but it is also a cheap trick that wears thin very quickly and gets you a well-deserved savaging by critics. It's hack writing.

    I try to do what the other posters have said - end every scene with intrigue; an unanswered question, an unfinished issue, an anticipated character walking in, something about to be explained, so that the reader wants to come back and find out what happens next. Sometimes it is a disaster, but you can't have a disaster occurring every ten minutes!
     
  11. iabanon
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    iabanon Member

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    I was just about to mention Dan Brown. He ends every chapter on a hook. I think it's clever and it works for his style. I have read many books where this is not the case. When they say disaster they mean a problem. It can be a small problem or a question. I'll try to use that a bit when I figure out where my chapters are. But I wouldn't use it every chapter like Dan. It becomes a bit exhausting to read and it is a device that can be overdone.
     
  12. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    I end every chapter in a way that makes people want to read the next. Which can be any number of things; cliffhangers and disasters are only two of the numerous ways to achieve this effect. Every chapter is different and needs its own unique ending. Using the same kind over and over is boring and monotonous to write and read.
     
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i don't know what how-tos you've been reading, but that's sheer nonsense... first of all, not all novels are in the action, sci-fi, or suspense genre... in 'coming of age' or 'romance' or various other genres, that advice wouldn't be at all relevant...

    chapters can end simply with a time or setting or character switch, none of which would = 'disaster'... this is one of the reasons why i advise my mentees to not bother with reading writing how-tos other than for screenwriting or song lyrics...
     
  14. Whirlwind
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    Whirlwind Member

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    No. My characters go into a scene. Get what they want. And come out.
     
  15. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt Contributing Member

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    Wow, I found these comments very insightful. I have also heard that you should end each scene with a problem and I just can't do it. Since I felt like the story didn't suffer for my inability to put in a problem at the end of every scene I have just let it go but it is always in the back of my head making me wonder if I was doing it wrong.

    So thanks for the thread.
     
  16. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    I don't think every chapter should end with a disaster, but certainly something that keeps the reader interested. This can be a disaster or a cliffhanger but it can also be a question or mystery, a witty parting line, or an "I have an idea moment". Of course some chapters should end with triumphs as well. The main thing to remember is that every chapter must have something meaningful happen in it but that doesn't mean it has to be a massive battle.
     
  17. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    Honestly though... all of this "is it good to do this in a story or not" talk...... it's easy enough to just read a book and see how they do it. I'm sure the answer changes when you cross genres. In a suspense story, if most of your chapters don't end on some kind of cliffhanger, you are probably doing it wrong (cliffhanger chapter endings are standard in that genre IMO). If it's something like a romance or a comedy or fantasy/scifi, then it might not matter as much.
     
  18. AmsterdamAssassin
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    AmsterdamAssassin Contributing Member

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    It's like, "Start with action" and writers assume that action means huge explosions and car chases. You could end each scene answering some questions and creating others - if your readers like your characters, they'll want to know what happens next.

    Disaster? Not necessary. If the reader cares enough about your character, a broken toenail can be enough.
     
  19. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yet another piece of really bad advice!... i have to wonder if folks who give out such nonsensical 'musts' have ever read a novel!
     
  20. Ettina
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    Ettina Active Member

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    I typically end a chapter when I've gotten around chapter length and found a natural break point. Very few of those times involve a disaster in any sense. Actually, I rarely end on cliffhangers because at points that could've been a cliffhanger I feel compelled to continue.
     
  21. hakuz
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    hakuz New Member

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    It's different with everyone. It depend's on the style that you're using in your piece.
    Dan Brown's cliffhangers at the end of each chapter - the worst thing someone can do to their work. Really. And it doesn't matter whether the cliffhanger is a disaster or someone entering a room. You know what I mean. These kind of cliffhangers are good in latinamerican soap operas and in scenes of action films with Tom Cruise and James Bond, but not in literature.
    I say, end your chapter however you want but make sure that you underline the fact that you've moved your story forward, answered some of the questions from previous chapters, even if the answers are multiplying the questions even more. Also, it's not about writing these questions down for your readers. It's about ending a chapter of your prose forcing THEM to want to ask you these questions. Forcing them to think about what else needs to be revealed. Your job is to decide to how and when finish the story.
     
  22. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    When I first read that advice, I was trying to pick myself from the floor with how absurd it sounded. It was so strict and insisted that there was absolutely no way to deviate from this in the slightest. (And it insisted that a disaster had to be a disaster. In other words, the main character needed constant devastation.)

    I hated that from the first day. Screw the How-To guides. Write the story, revise it to make it the best that it can be, and don't worry about whether or not the story fits some advisor's template.

    I try to make each chapter of my story have some sort of episode quality to it. Not strictly comparable to a TV show, but I try to make it describable. I do have sub-chapters as necessary. I can't say every subchapter forwards the story radically, but I try to make each one relevant. Sometimes a story NEEDS a breather. I ain't worried about ending each "scene" with a disaster. (And I won't even get started on the "sequels" thing that resolves that disaster.) I'm worried about telling my story the best way I can, and that is not by letting somebody else tell me how to write it.
     
  23. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    no one needs a how-to in order to learn how to write prose!... all they have to do is read the best examples of whatever it is they want to write... the only time i tell my mentees to buy a how-to is if they want to be screenwriters...
     
  24. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks everyone for your opinions and advice. I feel a little more confident now with the way I wrote my first story. As some of you have said, maybe it depends on the genre, thrillers might need or be expected to have the cliffhangers to some extent while with a romantic story won't. Good points, as usual. :)
     
  25. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    It seems to me that every (or at least a lot of them) how-to books are trying to teach you have to write commercial-churn them out as fast as possible to please the masses with garbage-fiction. Instead of the good fiction a good book and author can teach you.
     

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