101 Creative Writing Exercises (aff link) is a book of exercises that takes writers on a journey through different forms and genres of creative writing.
Each exercise teaches a specific concept, and each chapter focuses on a different subject or form: journaling, storytelling, fiction writing, poetry, article writing, and more. All of the exercises are designed to be practical. In other words, you can use these exercises to launch projects that are destined for publication.
Today, I’d like to present one of the exercises to give you a taste of what to expect from the book. From “Chapter 6: Storytelling,” this exercise is called “Oh No He Didn’t!” I hope you like it!
Oh No He Didn’t! (from 101 Creative Writing Exercises)
Plot twists, cliffhangers, and page-turners. Oh my! These are the sneaky techniques writers use to keep readers captivated. And we’ve all been there: It’s late, and I’m tired. After this chapter, the lights are going out. Then there’s a cliffhanger, a shocking development in the story. Forget sleep! I have to find out what happens next.
Some writers are criticized for overusing these devices or for planting twists that are contrived or forced. But a good plot twist or cliffhanger is natural to the story and doesn’t feel like the writer strategically worked it in.
Some stories feature major twists in the middle of chapters. It’s placing such a twist at the end of a chapter that turns it into a cliffhanger. Soap operas and television dramas are known, loved, and loathed for their application of these devices. It’s how they hook viewers, and it’s a way you can hook readers.
Each writer has to decide whether to use these techniques in storytelling. You might think they’re too formulaic or rob your story of its artfulness. Or maybe you like the exciting edge that a good twist or cliffhanger brings to a story.
Write an outline for a chapter that ends on a cliffhanger. You can also use a TV episode as your model or a serialized short story. Approach the cliffhanger by building tension to the moment:
Bad guys are chasing the good guys. The bad guys are gaining on them. They’re getting closer! One of bad guys draws his gun, lifts it, cocks it, and aims right at our hero. He pulls the trigger. See you next week!
You can also plant a cliffhanger that comes out of nowhere. The chapter is winding down, everything is moving along as expected and suddenly a character walks into a room and tells her ex-lover that she’s pregnant and he’s the father. Uh oh!
Both types of cliffhangers work equally well.
Tips: The best cliffhangers leave huge questions hanging in the air. Who did it? What just happened? Will they survive? How is that possible? What will happen next?
Variations: You can expand on this exercise by writing out a scene that ends on a cliffhanger. To expand further, write the follow-up scene and satisfy readers’ curiosity by answering the big questions raised by your cliffhanger.
Applications: If you want to be a commercially successful author, you will probably find that mastering the cliffhanger is a huge asset to your writing skills. The cliffhanger is almost mandatory in horror and mystery genres, so if that’s what you want to write, you’ll need to be able to execute a good clincher.
Thanks for the sneak peek. 🙂 I like this exercise. I’ll have to try it on my WIP to see if I can shake any ideas loose.
This exercise came from a cliffhanger I placed at the end of a chapter in my WIP. I hope you find it useful!
I saw this exercise and thought I could do it. I wrote it once and crumpled it in a ball. I wrote a second try and crossed everything out. I grabbed the crumpled paper, smoothed it and stared hard. Suddenly, between the lines on the page, I saw the solution to my problem!
Thanks for the exercise.
That’s awesome, Kelley. Your comment demonstrates the creative process in a few short sentences — if you keep trying, then eventually, you’ll succeed.
Your book sounds so good! A must read. Can’t wait to get it!
I like how you talk about the cliffhanger, in an easy to understand way, clear, with useful tips and examples of how to employ it. Great. And the “Oh No He Didn’t!” is funny, using modern colloquialisms; love it.
Excited to get my copy.
You have been a huge inspiration and guide for me.
Thanks so much.
This is a very useful exercise. I tried it right after I finished reading about it. I must say, although it is not an easy thing to master, the examples you provided made it seem so stress-free.
I am sure that your book will be a big hit. I’ll do my best to get my hands on a copy.
Thanks so much, KD. I appreciate your feedback on this exercise and am glad to hear that you found it helpful. Keep writing!
Thank you for your dedication to empower people like myself. English is not my native language. I cannot get a promotion or a new job due to my under average of writing skills (let alone creative writing). It’s like a wake up call. My area for improvement is to start actually reading and fix my grammar. The reading can be of those non fiction or motivational. Would you please kindly recommend any author(s) those can be my best coach?
You can visit the Grammar Tips section here on Writing Forward, or visit the Writing Resources section to find some grammar resources that I recommend. Hope that helps, and good luck to you!
I wish you much success with your creative writing exercises book. The cliffhanger exercise is really fun to do and I hope others like it as well. Have a blessed day.
Good post, Melissa. Cliffhangers make good novels great. We can’t put them down. There’s also the more subtle kind of cliffhanger at the end of a book in a series. A heavy cliffhanger makes some readers feel cheated, but a light one will have them looking out for the next book. The protagonist gets a promotion, comes into some money, or is told about a new case and it’s an appetizer. Thanks for the article.
I couldn’t agree more. I love a good cliffhanger!