The Case Against Ribbons


By Linda Yezak

As developmental editors, we need to watch out for ribbons—the beautiful instruments of bow-tying that bring together all the elements of a chapter perfectly. Perfect for a book mark, that is. How does an author keep the reader hooked from one chapter to the next, despite the darkness of the hour?


Even cooking shows do them. Ever watched Chopped? Just as Ted Allen is lifting the cloche to reveal the failed dish, Food Network jumps to a commercial. And you have to watch. No way you can go through the rest of the night without knowing who made the worst dessert out of a basketful of octopus, raisins, and Grape Nehi, right?

Authors should resist the urge to tie everything up with a pretty little ribbon and, instead, master the art of developing cliff-hangers. Scene to scene, chapter to chapter, everything should end with something that encourages the reader to turn the page. And once they do, the author should reward them with a reason to turn it again.

The most obvious cliffhanger technique is ending the chapter/scene at an action high-point.

A bullet whizzed past Marissa’s head. She ducked and twisted to glance behind her. “They’re shooting at us!”

“I can’t think about that right now,” Justin shouted. He yanked the paddle from one side to the other, trying to control the kayak’s crazy spin. “Hang on!”

End of chapter.

For the next chapter, the author has all sorts of options: Continue with Justin and Marissa or divert to another tense spot. Maybe shift the POV to show the shooter’s frustration over missing the shot and how much trouble he gets into for his failure. Or maybe slip all the way over to Cornpatch, Iowa, to show innocent Aunt Minnie getting a garbled phone call about how Marissa will die if Minnie doesn’t relinquish the golden statue right this minute.

“But I don’t have it! I don’t know where it is!”

“Then you’ll never see your niece again!”

Poor Aunt Minnie. She doesn’t know her niece is getting shot at and is spinning in a kayak caught in a strong current.

For those authors who aren’t writing action/thriller/suspense novels into which these stop-action chapter endings can easily be plopped, you can still encourage page turning. High-octane scenes aren’t the only candidates for cliff-hanger status. Any scene can encourage a reader to move forward if the author leaves something there to niggle at her brain.

Did he just find out she’s not a lady of the court? 

He reins his Friesian around to face her. “If you’re not Lady Cornwall, who are you?” 

Wait until the next chapter—or even later—to tell him she’s a burlesque dancer at the Moulin Rouge on vacation in London.

Is she sweaty-palmed with pre-show jitters? Terrified she’ll freeze when the camera comes on? The last line in the chapter/scene could be the director jabbing his finger in her direction. Action! 

What if the entire point of the chapter is to allow the reader to rest while the character reflects? If she’s going to be happy at the end of the chapter—“He loves me!”—pop her bubble in the next. And if you really want to assure page-turning, foreshadow the pin that’ll do it. Then put that pin right under the chapter heading in a short, eye-catching line. This will encourage a reader to continue.

Will she end the chapter with a resolution to do whatever needs to get done? As God is my witness, I will never go hungry again! Then smack her with a roadblock in the next scene—perhaps one the reader already knows is coming, even if the character doesn’t.

Has doubt snaked into his confidence? Say so–He frowned at the $14,000 diamond ring in his hand. “What if she says no?”—and end it there.

Even in slow scenes, the emotion can be amped so when the fall comes, it’s hard and dramatic. And irresistible to the reader. If the scene can’t end with action, end with a question, an attitude, an emotion strong enough to blow the reader’s hair back, but don’t let it end in a tidy little package.

Look for ways your author can rev up the page-turning within the context given. Putting a scene or chapter break in the right place should keep the ribbons away. Which is a good thing. Ribbons come with bookmarks attached.

Photo by Jess Bailey on Unsplash

Photo by Hu Chen on Unsplash

Linda W. Yezak lives with her husband and their funky feline, PB, in a forest in deep East Texas, where tall tales abound and exaggeration is an art form. She has a deep and abiding love for her Lord, her family, and salted caramel. And coffee—with a caramel creamer. Author of award-winning books and short stories, she didn't begin writing professionally until she turned fifty. Taking on a new career every half century is a good thing.




Facebook: Author Page


Twitter: @LindaYezak

Amazon Page:

Goodreads: Linda W Yezak




Popular Posts