Have you ever gone to bed with a novel, planning to read for 20 minutes or so, and found yourself still engrossed an hour later?
Good writers use cliff hangers to end a scene. Cliff hangers can be major events like who shot J.R. Ewing. In the TV show ”Dallas” in the 1980s, viewers wondered all post-season who shot the villainous J.R. They tuned in in record numbers for the season opener in the fall. The screen writer of that show wrote a huge cliff hanger. But cliff hangers can also be small. Who sent Mom a single rose when it wasn’t even her birthday? And why did they do it? Turn the page to find out.
Good writers foreshadow coming events to end a scene. When a grinning Rhett Butler watches Scarlett O’Hara ascend the stairs of the Wilkes mansion, Scarlet feels uncomfortable. Later when Scarlett discovers that Rhett has overheard her baring her soul to Ashley Wilkes, Scarlet is mortified. Her early discomfort foreshadows her later embarrassment.
Good writers end a scene with a change of action. Shakespeare did this all the time in his plays. A love scene is followed by a murder is followed by comic relief. Police mysteries show a detective reaching a dead end when the medical examiner phones to say he has discovered something. We keep reading.
Good writers shift the point of view (POV) to end a scene. Leo Toystoy starts Anna Karenina from the point of view of cavalier Stephen Oblonsky as he blames his affair with his children’s governess on his silly smile and his vibrant personality. Then the scene shirts to the head of his distraught wife, pregnant with her seventh child, who can see no option but to leave him.
Good writers use monologue or dialog to end a scene, and they write last words or last thoughts that are significant. One character might admonish another to heed advice. One character might rue the day he agreed to a blind date as he pushes a doorbell. We turn the page to find out if he is right.
Good writers use surprise to end a scene. What if the guy ringing the doorbell is met by a huge dog, or a wise-cracking little sister, or his drop-dead beautiful date. . .and her big brother chaperone?
What all of these scene endings have in common is a question. We, the readers or viewers, want to know something. And so we keep reading.