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Writing

How to Write a Chapter Ending That Keeps Readers Engaged

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jan 21, 2020 • 3 min read

How you end a chapter depends on the type of novel you’re writing. In a thriller, for example, almost every chapter will end with a cliffhanger. If you’re writing literary fiction, humorous essays, or a romance novel, the final pages of each chapter might not be action-packed, but, in the words of bestselling author James Patterson, “At the end, something has to propel you into the next chapter.”

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Why Are Good Chapter Endings Important?

Chapter endings leave your reader with a sense of what to expect going forward. Cliffhanger endings are the hallmark of page-turner fiction, but perhaps you want to leave your reader with something more subtle to contemplate. Whatever you do, your chapter endings should encourage your audience to keep reading. Try to make the end of every chapter as exciting as the opening lines of the chapter—if your chapter ends on a flat, boring note, your reader may give up on your overall story.

How to Know When to End a Chapter

Figuring out when to end one chapter and begin another can be one of the trickiest parts of the writing process. Generally speaking, you’ll want to end a chapter at the end of every scene. What constitutes the end of a scene? Some clues to look for when making chapter breaks:

  • Location change: Is your main character moving to a new place or time? Whether they’re traveling long distances or entering a flashback, starting a new chapter can help your readers enter a new world.
  • Point of view change: If you’re telling your story from more than one character’s point of view, you’ll generally want to stick to one POV per chapter, to avoid confusing your reader.
  • Length: Is your chapter getting really, really long? There’s no standard prescribed word count for chapter length, but the whole point of chapters is to give your reader a break. It’s okay to have a few longer chapters, but if a chapter feels like it’s dragging, it might be time to end it.
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2 Ways to End a Chapter

When ending a chapter, ask yourself: What does the reader want to know most in this chapter? Whatever it is, it should come at the end of the chapter. There are two main ways to end a chapter:

  1. End with a cliffhanger. Cliffhangers pose big questions at the end of a chapter or section. Typically, a cliffhanger stops during a climactic event midway through the action instead of at its natural conclusion. Often, chapter endings fulfill a previous promise. If you want to use a cliffhanger, though, take the reader to the moment before fulfillment and stop the chapter there. Is your hero about to push the villain off of a racing yacht? Stop where the hero has the villain in his grip. The reader will want to know how it plays out. You can also provide a surprise at a chapter’s end. This can be a new piece of information or an entire plot twist. Maybe the villain reaches for a hidden knife. Or as your hero is pushing the villain’s head into the sea, he notices a tattoo on his shoulder that means something remarkable—you don’t have to say what. Leave the reader thinking, “All right, I’ll read just one more page....”
  2. End at a natural pause. If you’re not writing a cliffhanger ending, stop at the moment you’ve fulfilled your narrative promise to the reader. Let your reader sit with the new knowledge they’ve gained, or allow them a break before changing locations or perspectives. Interspersing cliffhanger endings with natural-pause endings will keep your reader interested without overwhelming them.

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