I’ve talked before about the importance of a book’s ending. But equally important are chapter endings. The way that you leave each chapter will often determine whether or not readers are compelled to keep reading. Whenever I stay up way too late reading because I just can’t put a book down, the chapter endings are often an important factor. So, how do you get your readers to say Just one more chapter?
Here are my suggestions for a great chapter ending:
- A cliffhanger
This is the most obvious type of ending on the list, and probably the one I see used most often. Cliffhangers can be great when they’re done well. Note that when I say “cliffhanger” here, I’m referring to the most traditional sense of the term—leaving the hero in a dangerous or impossible situation, like hanging off the edge of a cliff. These kinds of endings can often compel readers to keep reading. But do be cautious here; cliffhangers can be overused and lose their impact. Also, be sure that you’re not creating false cliffhangers. I’ve seen some chapters that set up a dangerous situation right at the end of a chapter, only to resolve it a page later. These kinds of endings are probably more frustrating for readers than compelling, so make sure that your cliffhangers spring from real danger or tension.
Another chapter ending that can be just as effective as cliffhangers is the ending that leaves the readers asking questions. Cliffhangers are actually a form of the “question” ending, because they leave the reader asking, “How are they going to get out of this? Are they going to survive?” But I think it’s important to talk about question endings more broadly than just cliffhangers, especially since they seem to be underused in some of the manuscripts I read. There are lots of other questions that you can leave readers asking. For example, “Who is that mysterious character? What does this person want? Where are they going next? How are they going to accomplish their goal? How will this conflict ever be resolved? What’s going to happen when they get to their destination?” The kinds of questions you can leave the reader with are infinite—the most important thing is that there are questions, so that readers will want to keep reading to find out the answers.
Another common type of chapter ending is shock. This usually means a major plot twist, surprising reveal, or some kind of danger that comes out of nowhere. These endings can be very effective, as they generate plenty of new questions and keep the reader engaged. But, as with cliffhangers, there are pitfalls to this kind of ending too. If the reader has already guessed the twist ahead of time, or if the information isn’t shocking enough, you might be leaving readers bored instead of compelled. You don’t want readers to say, “Yeah, I knew that already,” or “So what? What’s the big deal?” For this reason, it’s important not to create false twists or throw in reveals just for shock value. These twists need to feel both authentic to the story, important to the story, and genuinely shocking to the reader.
Sometimes the quietest chapter endings can be compelling too, if they end with plenty of emotion. A particularly haunting image or emotional scene can keep readers turning pages. By evoking emotion in the reader, you keep them engaged in the story. These endings can be difficult to do well—overdo it, and it may feel melodramatic, but if you don’t give it enough of an emotional punch it may feel lackluster. But if done well, these can be some of the most powerful chapter endings in your book, despite being the kind of ending that many writers overlook.
What do you think? What techniques do your favorite books use? Which one do you prefer? Let me know in the comments!
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