While they’re not the sexiest of writers’ tools, your novel’s chapters can be pretty nifty things. In one fell swoop, they take the massive behemoth that is your story, and turn it into easily digestible chunks for your reader to sink their teeth in. When done right, they help grab your reader by the collar and drag them into your novel — when done wrong, however, they present them with a silver-plattered opportunity to put down your book and call it a night.
The end of your chapter, then, has a very specific goal: to keep your reader hooked until their beards have grown long and a new day has dawned. Here are four ways to end your chapter that will achieve just that.
1) A pure cliffhanger, sometimes
While they’re easily the most well-known of chapter endings, cliffhangers are far from a one-size-fits-all solution. For one, they tend to lose their impact the more often you use them, and can come across as manipulative when they’re the rule rather than the exception. And that’s a remarkably tricky balance to strike: toy with your reader one too many times, and they might just catapult your novel into the fireplace.
That being said, cliffhangers can be great in moderation, specifically when they come at natural points in your story. They’re a sledgehammer for when your regular toolbox just won’t cut it; your fancy china for those particularly special literary occasions. The best ones flow seamlessly from whatever it is you’ve set up before; hide information from your reader because it genuinely makes sense for the story. And when you do find the perfect moment to use them, we have a full guide on how to do your cliffhangers right.
2) A meaningful plot development
We’ve said it often and we’ve said it loudly: everything you write should move the story forward. Your chapter endings are no exception to that rule, and a meaningful plot development is a great way to do just that. Rather than leave out a crucial piece of information, you end your chapter on that piece of information itself — it might be a character you introduce, or a new discovery that is made, or even just the promise of adventure.
If a cliffhanger is all about “what will happen?”, meaningful plot developments are all about “what will happen next?” In the long run, this is a much more sustainable way to end your chapters, because it plays into your reader’s feelings of excitement rather than frustration. That’s a healthy relationship to have with your audience, and will leave them far more invested than a constant barrage of bait-and-switches.
3) A meaningful character development
Not every chapter of your book will be full of excitement, and sometimes you just need to let your story breathe. Luckily, your readers care profoundly for your characters, and so even smaller developments in their lives can be plenty to draw us in. Perhaps we’ll see them overcoming a fear, or discovering a new flaw, or finally learning to truly stand up for themselves.
Whatever it is, such a meaningful character development will leave us asking a similar question as we did before: “what will they do next?” It’s exciting to see someone we care about grow over time, and for that reason alone, we’ll be on the edge of our seats to see where they’ll be going next.
4) A wonderful sense of enjoyment
It’s the the be-all-end-all of chapter endings, but that doesn’t make it any less worth striving for: ending your chapter on a sense of enjoyment alone. When you’ve truly captivated your audience — and I mean truly captivated your audience — you won’t need to build curiosity to get those pages turned. They’ll simply enjoy a chapter so much that they positively can’t wait for the next; be so caught up in your storyworld that they won’t want to leave it for a second.
As readers, we love it when the things we’ve been rooting for are finally coming together, or when amazing new storylines are set up and explored. It’s the holy grail of writing, admittedly, but also the most magical reading experience your audience could ever dare to hope for. When things truly come together, you won’t have to resort to smoke and mirrors to keep your readers invested: the joy of reading alone will be reason enough to keep your novel glued to their face.