Photo by [Junior Skumbag] on [Unsplash]
_Sometimes what you think is an end is only a beginning. _Agatha Christie.
The Unputdownable Goal
Every novelist, no matter what genre, wants their book to be unputdownable. That means readers keep turning pages. But what happens when a reader gets to the end of a chapter?
A chapter ending is the perfect place for a reader to stop, especially if it’s late at night. So, how do you hook a reader to go on to the next chapter?
Wait, you say. I thought hooks were for the beginning of the novel. A chapter ending hook does the same thing. It spurs the reader to continue reading.
A Chapter Ending is the End of a Mini-Story
Each chapter is a mini-story with a beginning, middle, and end. The secret to creating a chapter ending that prompts the reader to continue is to create a hook. That hook can be emotional, mental, or physical, but it creates curiosity.
While the end of your novel may wrap up all the threads, a chapter ending with a hook leaves a thread hanging. What thread you dangle is a choice you make to match the content of the chapter and the chapter to come.
Your ending hook leads into a new beginning—the next chapter. Here are seven top chapter-ending choices to get your reader to continue.
Your character has to make a crucial choice. She has to choose between fighting to keep her business alive or giving up. He has to either fight the giant or retreat to find a different way to the cave with the treasure.
If you alternate between active and reactive scenes, the decision ending works well in a reactive scene. The detective enumerates the possible suspects and now has to choose which one is the most likely perpetrator.
The reader must continue reading to discover what the choice is and the consequences of that choice.
Ending with physical danger creates an unresolved situation in the reader’s mind. Often called a cliffhanger, the chapter end puts the character in a life-threatening situation. This ending is a strong prompt for the reader to continue. They’ll want to resolve the unresolved situation.
From hanging on a cliff to stepping into a dark room to being threatened with a knife to...whatever your imagination and your story throws in the way of your character.
Novel editor, [John Fox], suggests the graceful cliffhanger:
The perfect cliffhanger is one in which the reader doesn’t even consciously realize they’ve been cliffhung (let’s pretend that’s a word).
Soft pedal your physical danger so the reader feels the tension without knowing that you’ve led them to this point.
Use a beginning to end the chapter. An opponent arrives to thwart your hero just when he was about to succeed. The love interest’s ex-spouse wants him back. A mentor arrives and tells your hero he’s been doing it all wrong.
Use important arrival chapter endings to introduce a twist. The arrival changes the direction of the story, leading to new obstacles and complications.
Unexpected discoveries also work to add a plot twist. Just as the chapter ends, reveal a secret. The real mastermind behind the plot to take over the government is your heroine’s best friend. The prime suspect in a murder mystery was away at the time of the murder. The key to getting to the dragon’s treasure is to sing a lullaby.
Readers like surprises. While you work hard to create obstacles for your characters, a positive surprise that twists the plot generates a strong desire to know how the revelation changes the story.
Photo by [Evan Dennis] on [Unsplash]
Pose A Question
A question propels the reader to continue because they want to know the answer. It’s the perfect way to send your reader to the next chapter.
Any of your characters can ask the question, you don’t have to limit yourself to your protagonist. A sidekick asks your hero to reconsider the last action. An opponent probes with a question your hero doesn’t want to answer, but must because the opponent is her superior. A potential love interest wants to know why your heroine doesn’t want children when he does.
Use question endings to reinforce your story’s theme or probe at your protagonist’s weakness.
Create a Mystery
Your protagonist, and your reader, do not know what will happen next. Mystery chapter endings work well at the midpoint when everything is about to change at the everything-is-lost point of your story. The future is a mystery. Your protagonist doesn’t grasp what to do next. Nothing makes sense. However you spin the mystery, your reader wants to discover how it will be solved.
Deepen Your Character
Character change is as important as plot development. It’s an essential element of character-driven novels. As you uncover your character’s levels you create a stronger emotional attachment for your reader.
Deepening your character creates new aspects that present new challenges for your protagonist. A new positioning of your character opens avenues for development. You create a sense of wonder in your reader that drives them to continue. The reader wants to learn how this new revelation will change the story.
Mix It Up
Using a variety of chapter endings helps you avoid repetition. If you end all your chapters the same way, your reader will feel like they are being tricked. Varying your chapter endings works in any genre. If you are a planner, you can set up the type of chapter ending you use in your chapter notes to avoid repetition.
More advanced writers may end each chapter in a similar way to create a rhythm or emphasize a theme. The story within the chapter needs to be strong and exciting.
Techniques are techniques, make sure your chapter endings are natural, ending at a legitimate stopping point. A forced ending feels contrived and puts off a reader. Rather than continuing on, the reader will stop.
Don’t overthink your chapter endings. Choose an ending that makes sense for the mini-story in the chapter. The key is to fit the chapter ending to what happens in the chapter, your genre, and moving the story forward.