The Perils of Pauline, a 1914 movie series, featured a pretty young lady who somehow managed to get herself into predicaments with no way out. Tied to railroad tracks with a steam locomotive bearing down on her. Lashed to a wooden post while flames licked around her. Strapped to a table while spikes descended from the ceiling. At the moment when the audience excitement reached a peaked because poor Pauline would be killed, the film stopped with the words “To Be Continued…” And the cliffhanger was born.
Today’s authors can take a cue from Pauline, although perhaps with less melodrama. End a chapter with a well-planned cliffhanger and the reader will be certain to turn the page to see what comes next. The end does not need to be some threat of loss of life, but it needs to pose the question in the readers mind: “And then what happens?”
Here’s the end of chapter twenty-seven from Penelope and The Ghost’s Treasure.
Ploop. Clunk. Phizz.
Short pushed his pincer glasses on and leaned close to the boiling, seething liquid. “Something has gone wrong.”
“Should I stir harder?” Penelope picked up the pace.
“No, it’s too late for that. Best we hit the deck.” He grabbed her, pushed her under the lab table and crouched down next to her.
“Maybe it’ll be okay.” She leaned forward from their cramped quarters under the table and tried to catch a glimpse of the experiment.
He pulled her back. “Best to let it run its course.”
Ploop. Clunk. Phizz. KABLAM!
To Be Continued…