Tuesday, March 19, 2013

And the Winner of the Cliffhanger Contest is...

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

This was an enlightening contest for me (and I hope you guys as well). With nothing but a few lines to hook me, the authors really had to infuse tension and conflict into a few words. The ones that grabbed me all had a wonderful sense of something more going on. I wanted to know what the situation was, or some mystery that had been left me.

One of the things I found especially interesting about this contest was the number of action-packed life or death endings submitted. These are classic cliffhangers, and while they were all good, none left me wanting to turn the page for the exact same reasons:

1. I didn't know the characters because I never read enough to get invested in them

2. There was little mystery to how they'd play out.

In an actual book these cliffhangers would work better of course, because readers would be invested and care. However, I have put down a book at a moment like that because I know the implied danger isn't actually going to happen. The action passages that hooked me the most were the ones that also offered a little mystery with the action. It wasn't just "will they or won't they get out of this?"

Even more interesting, is that these same reasons are why these type of situations also don't make good openings. A happy accident here, but if you read through all of these as opening pages, you get a good sense of what grabs you and what doesn't and why. I found that pretty cool.


All the submissions were good and a lot of fun, but four stood out for me:

From liebjabberings
"For a few minutes I was almost normal."
What I liked about this one is the question of "why isn't this person normal?" hanging in the air. I'm curious about who this is and what their situation is.

From Rachel6
Sam opened the door and gave the young man a friendly smile. Tourist, he thought. The guy looked like the type. "Can I help you?"
The young man glanced down at the paper in his hands and up at Sam. "Samuel Chimes?"
Sam blinked. "Yeah, that's me."
From the front room, Linda called, "Sam, who is it?"
The young man took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. "Hi, Dad."
This intrigued me because there's a lot of potential conflict here. Who is the young man, is he really Sam's son, what will Linda say when she finds out, how will Sam feel about it.

From catherinelawrence
Shaking, she drew a letter from her apron.
Peggie snatched it up.
It was addressed to Sir James, in her mother's hand, and bordered all in black.
What hooked me here was the bordered all in black. I totally wanted to know what was in that letter.

From marti parham
My fingers followed each word of the cursive handwriting until I reached the last sentence on the bottom of the page that read:

If he knows the truth I will have to

I quickly flipped the page. It was blank. So was the next one, and the one after that.
A classic quieter cliffhanger, but it does make me want to know what truth and what happened to make this person not finish that sentence. And what it means to the person reading it.

And the winner is...


The subtle dread and forbidding about that letter, the shaking hands, the snatching it up, all contributed to a great sense of doom about to hit. Excellent word use to raise the tension.

catherinelawrence, just contact me at janice (@) janicehardy (dot) com for your critique.

Grats and fantastic job to everyone! I've got to come up with something really fun for the next contest.


  1. You picked all my favorites! I liked the brevity of liebjabberings' entry. And like you, the "bordered all in black" has seriously piqued my curiosity.

    Thanks for the contest; it was fun!!

  2. congratulations to Catherine. WHat a great contest and excellent submissions!

  3. Big congrats to Catherine Lawrence. Nice job.

  4. Kudos to Catherine!

    Thanks for the contest - and for selecting my entry as one of your finalists. That WAS fun.

    The scene that ends with that line is coming up in Chapter 3 of Pride's Children, which I am serializing on my blog as I polish it. I post a new scene on Tuesdays; the first scene in Chapter 2 went up yesterday.

  5. Three cheers to the winner :-)

  6. Wow, Janice, thanks for this great opportunity! I will email you this week. And thanks to everyone for the encouraging comments. I had just crafted this new early scene to give the heroine's character more interest and substance, so I'm glad to know it works to intrigue readers :)

    I, too, enjoyed all the entries. It was fun to try to figure out the larger stories from chapter ending snippets.

    Now, if I could only decide what should come next...

  7. That's always the hard part, hehe.