Stop Ending Scenes with Your Character Falling Asleep
By Evan Braun
You know that feeling just before you fall asleep? You’re lying in bed, totally relaxed, surrounded by your most comfortable pillows and blankets… you feel your mind and body slowly drifting off into…
Actually, you probably don’t quite remember that feeling. It’s hard to put your finger on something that occurs right as you’re losing consciousness.
Another question: do you remember that feeling you got upon reaching the end of the latest chapter of your current novel and literally couldn’t wait to turn the page and start reading the next chapter? What a cliffhanger!
Was the answer to both of these questions the same?
And yet there’s an incredibly strong draw among writers to end scenes with their main character falling asleep.
It’s been a really long, hard day and John is totally exhausted; he closes his eyes and drifts into dreamland.
Sarah just indulged in an extra big lunch, so instead of going out to complete her afternoon errands, she hits the sack, opting to take a well-deserved nap.
Riveting stuff, isn’t it? Bet you can’t wait to turn the page and find out what happens next!
Okay, I’m being a little bit facetious here. I suppose there are some cases where falling asleep after a crisis could be an appropriate place to leave off a chapter. And it’s definitely possible to mine good drama from a character losing consciousness after a head injury. (Although this, too, is overused and problematic, which I’ll cover in another post on another day.)
It may not be the worst thing you can do as a writer, but it’s also not the best. I wouldn’t recommend it if your goal is to maintain a firm grip on your reader’s attention.
Readers are constantly looking for good excuses to put down the book. There is a lot going on in their lives vying for their time. They have to pick up the children from school. They have to go back to work. They have to answer emails and return phone calls. They usually don’t have to keep reading this book in their lap.
And here’s a key consideration. Very often, the reader is holding your book while lying in bed. They’re totally relaxed. They’re surrounded by their most comfortable pillows and blanket. They are feeling their mind and body slowing drifting off into…
You lost them. They fell asleep.
Your job is to make them turn the page.
If your goal is to keep their attention, you need to consider ending your scenes with interesting hooks to make sure they keep coming back for more. The last thing a reader needs is for the character to succumb to the temptation to sleep, especially since they themselves may be facing the exact same temptation.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Every chapter doesn’t need to end with a car chase or a gun going off or a character getting kicked in the stomach. That gets exhausting in its own way. Sometimes you will do these things! But most times, when you get close to the end of a scene, you will want to find subtle ways to remind your reader of the little mysteries and story hooks you have been shrewdly unspooling.
The end of the scene is an invitation to tempt your reader into diving back in for another helping of delicious storytelling. It’s not an invitation for them to catch some Z’s.
About this Contributor:
Evan Braun is a full-time author and editor. He has authored three novels, the first of which, The Book of Creation, was shortlisted in two categories at the 2012 Word Awards. He has released two sequels, The City of Darkness (2013) and The Law of Radiance (2015), completing the series. Braun is an experienced professional editor, and has worked with Word Alive Press authors since 2006. He is also a regular contributor at The Fictorians, a popular writing blog.