Chapter Endings: The Right Way

Just as important as the chapter beginning, the chapter ending has it’s share of important work to do. How do you write a chapter ending that will make your readers salivate? I have put down many a book because a chapter ending left me less than impressed. Look, it’s a fairly simple concept to grasp. People’s attention spans are short. They need constant stimulation in order to carry on with something. So, give them that. Write chapter endings that whet their appetite and keeps them guessing. “But, Sherri, how do I do that?” You ask. Never fear, young grasshopper, here are some killer ideas for chapter endings.

 

THE CLIFFHANGER

By far my favorite method. I practically overkill it in my current WIP because well…it just works. What exactly is a cliffhanger? Well, according to the dictionary, it is defined as:

 

cliff·hang·er
/ˈklifˌhaNGər/
noun
a story or event with a strong element of suspense.
“the game was a cliffhanger right up to the final buzzer”
Ask yourself this: If my reader was half asleep on a Monday night, and nodding away…how can I compel them to stay awake? That my friends are the million dollar question. So, how to make it happen? I’m glad you asked.

Heat of Action

Sagging Middle Syndome

Notice I did not say battle. The action does not automatically equate to epic battles (although they can). Just about anything could be considered action. Chapter endings should leave the reader wanting more. A chapter ending that gives them that will have them hooked.

For example: In my current WIP, I ended a chapter on this exact note. My character is weak, defenseless and utterly exhausted from a fight for her life. She is literally torn to shreds, trying to stop the blood from gushing. Her captor eases himself off the ground, crawls to the discarded sword and grabs it. She is watching him do this and yet, is powerless to respond. He drags himself toward her and….chapter ending.

It’s so wicked. So deviously tantalizing, you just have to know what is going to happen next!

While this (for me, anyway) is certainly one of the best ways to go, there are certainly other routes as well, that will serve a sufficient cliffhanger.

Emotional High

Happy WomanEmotions are a base human instinct. They serve as a catalyst for nearly everything. If you are able to provoke an emotional response in the reader, ride that wave. Spike the emotion to its peak and force them to turn the page to find their release.

What do I mean?

Simply put, for example, suppose your love interest has finally broken the wall surrounding your MC’s heart. You have expertly woven the tale of how they were closed off throughout seventy-five percent of the book and finally, a ghost of a smile. Your MC faced heart-wrenching trauma throughout their life and is written off as incapable of feeling. They are overjoyed and grateful for the love interest and is so deeply in love with them. As they are rushing to proclaim their love, they turn the corner to find the love interest in the arms of another.

The shock.

Betrayal.

A physical manifestation of their pain.

Chapter ending.

New Revelation

Everyone has their long-held beliefs. Your characters are no different. Throughout the book, we are faced with a version of their reality. We learn the order and the norms expected and evidence is presented in such a way, only one outcome is likely.

Suddenly, there is a shift in the paradigm and everything we held dear is forever altered by this one revelation.

Chapter ending.

Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Prime examples.

How did the entire view of the Star Wars world dramatically shift after the revelation that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father? This was one of the greatest cinematic revelations ever and quite literally catapulted the series to the epic cult fiction status it has today.

Make your readers gasp. Completely obliterate everything they have been lead to believe (similar to an emotional high) and force a hard reality down their throats. They’ll be dying to know what happens next.

NON CLIFFHANGER ENDINGS

Like I said before, the above is by far my favorite method, but they are by no means the only. Here are some other chapter ending variations.

SIGNIFICANT SHIFT

One mistake I see beginners make far too often is meandering. We are writers and sometimes, we just don’t realize that we need to stop. This is evident in the fact that there are so many unnecessary scenes at times. It’s most notable in epics where every single, stinking detail of the journey is outlined.

Unless something significant occurs during the journey, this should be a chapter ending. For example:

 

Danny wiped the snow from his forehead and took one last squinting look up at the flat, soggy London sun before readjusting his soppy scarf. He sniffled and drew the scarf closer. “If I stay here another second, I’ll go mad. Let’s go.”

CHAPTER ENDING

Morocco. Sultry. Spicy breeze and toasting sun.

 

A chapter ending like this underscores the fact that there is significant shift in place, time and plot line. By doing so, you re-orient the reader and offer relief from the long stretch of continuity in one particular place. It allows you to better pace your story as well as serves up a heap of suspense. Now, your reader is wondering, why this shift and what new intrigue can possibly play out here.

 

Introducing New Characters Mid Story

backstory is character motivation

I know many authors will disagree with me, however, I like to be daring. My current WIP introduces new characters in a chapter all their own, albeit a mini one (usually two, three pages max). Doing this allows me to establish the fact that this person is significant. It allows the reader’s mind to wander and try to draw parallels as to what purpose they may serve.

Creating a chapter such as this encourages the reader to turn the page, as now, they are intrigued as to how the new character will fit with the existing ones!

 

Shifting Timelines

I absolutely love stories that involve multiple timelines. They are so intriguing to watch how the author weaves the two seamlessly. These make the perfect chapter ending. Whenever you are switching eras, it’s imperative to switch the chapter.

One way I like to do this is to incorporate one of the previous methods. For example, breaking in the heat of action can coincide with a switching timeline. You will infuriate readers in the best way possible, and they’ll be itching to get back to the previous plot line so much that they’ll hang in there just to see it!

 

Well, that’s all I have for you today folks! What do you think? Have I covered all the bases? What would you recommend? Drop a line in the comments below and let’s get the discussion going!

 

WORD!

 

 

 

1 Comment

  1. Reply

    Sydney

    February 13, 2018

    This post personally resonates with me. I’m in the process of writing and admittedly this is something I’ve never thought about. I will keep these ideas in mind. Excellent post, as usual.

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