When you write the end of a chapter, you want readers to be desperate to turn the page and read on irrespective of the fact its 3:41AM and they have work the next day.
You want your book to be the cause of their bleary eyed appearance as they clutch the work coffee machine and growl at any one who comes near.
But what is it about a chapter ending that makes someone read on, rather than put it down and go to snoozeyland?
Here are nine tactics you can use to grip a reader and tickle their temptation soft spot to read on.
Tactic ONE – Ignore The Reader
The end of a chapter is also called a transition because it ‘transitions’ you from scene to scene. Got to love when it does what it says on the tin. BUT, the misnomer that comes with the word transition, is that writers often think they need to either:
- Carry on the action in the next chapter where the last one finished
- Carry on the timeline exactly where the last chapter finished
Both of these, while not wrong, are definitely not necessary. Chapter endings are a literary device. Think of it as a wrench in your writerly toolbox of delights.
You can wrench a reader to an entirely different point in the book….(see what I did there…*snigger*) okay, moving on…
Tactic TWO – Arc Like Noah Only Less Wood More Words
Chapters need story arcs just as much as the whole book AND your characters do. But the arc in a chapter is often more pronounced. It’s unusual to start a chapter and end it with the same level of tension and pace.
By arc, I mean, the place your chapter starts – say Voldemort attacking Harry P, and the end, where Harry defeats him. Two entirely different places, two different emotions and two different levels of pace and tension.
If every chapter is flat (sure some need to be) you’re not giving your readers a reason to read on.
Tactic THREE – Pull A Rabbit From Your Writerly Magician Hat
Writers are magicians. That’s a fact, we make people feel stuff, create entire new worlds and bring magic to life. So embrace that shit at the end of a chapter. Do a big reveal. Whip a literary bunnikins from your book-hat and shock readers.
Like at the end of the first chapter of the Testing where we have been eagerly awaiting Cia’s school results – because all she’s ever wanted to do is go through the Testing to get into University
“No matter how hard I worked, I wasn’t good enough to be chosen for The Testing. As I leave the stage and am given hugs of congratulations by my friends, I can only wonder: what will I do now?” Joelle Charbonneau, The Testing, Ch1, loc 213.
Now I HAVE to know what happens, what WILL she do?
Tactic FOUR – Get Your Toddler Out – Ask Questions
Which leads me nicely onto the next tactic – Ask a question but never, NEVER answer it. The quote above is a good example of this, Charbonneau both reveals info and asks a question.
But you don’t have to hit us with the literal branch like she did, you can ask a metaphorical question, say by putting your character in a difficult situation – the question then becomes, how will Toby-woby get out of the poopee he’s in?
But like I said, the important thing is to not answer the question immediately you start the next chapter – leave a reader hanging, answer it in two or three or twenty-three chapters time.
Tactic FIVE – Cock Your Conflict Gun & Fire At Will
Conflict 1 & 2 – Create A Sticky Situation or Do something Interesting To A Character
I just read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Riggs puts Jacob into a whole heap of trouble at the end of the first chapter after seeing a monster that couldn’t possibly exist.
“And then I must’ve blacked out because he was saying Jacob, Jake, hey Ed areyouokayorwhat, and that’s the last thing I remember.” Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, Pg 33.
This quote kinda serves for both, Jake’s in a right sticky sit. But it’s also interesting because we want to know what he saw, and why he’s subsequently blacked out.
Conflict 3 -Rifle In That Toolbox Pull Out A Spanner & Throw It
Spanners are awesome and I don’t even like DIY. But literary spanners are awesome sauce, they’re like the perfect roast potato – crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside *drools*
A spanner can be anything. What is it your character wants? Be a bitch chuck something in the way and prevent them from getting it. Did Toby just save enough pocket money to get the supercool new rad car racer thing that he’s wanted for a year? Fuck him. Fuck the Toby, the car’s sold out. FOREVER.
*muhahaha rubs writerly hands together*
Angelfall is another great example of this. By throwing Penryn into a shitty situation she can’t do anything about.
“…but there’s nothing I can do about that. I start to tell her it’ll be all right, but the lie dries up in my mouth. It’s pointless to reassure her. I take a deep breath, and yank open the door.”Angel fall, Susan Ee, Pg 3.
Tactic SIX – Top Up The Tension With A Time Tease
One of the easiest ways to ratchet up the tension in a book is by applying a time pressure factor. Only got three days till the meteor hits the Earth? Better make sure the hero can save the world before then. Adding a time pressure factor in right at the end of a chapter is a guaranteed method of making the reader want to devour your pages. Because…because will your hero make it in time? *bites nail*
Tactic SEVEN – Soap Opera the Sh*t Out of Your Chapters
You know when you’re watching Corrie, or Eastenders or (insert culturally relevant soap opera show) and the end of the episode goes something like this:
Pregnancy test flashes positive. Girl turns white.
Girl’s friend says “But Shanice, is the father Derick (her boyfriend) or Tyson? (her estranged cousin, who she fell in love with (before she knew he was her cousin) after being beaten black and blue by Derick.)”
Shanice looks up, mouth opens to answer… *Dramatic Pause*
Insert cliff hanger music
DUM DUM DUUUUUUM…
You’re on your feet, as red faced as the local alcoholic and bellowing expletives at the screen.
I’ll never forget the iconic Eastenders scene with Kat and Zoe Slater who have been brought up as sisters but actually aren’t. I had to include it because in my humble opinion it’s one of the greatest soap opera moments in British history.
So what tactics do you employ when writing the end of a chapter to grip a reader and make them turn the page? Let me know in the comments.
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