The white space and page break at the end of a chapter is a dangerous place. It’s very easy to lose your reader there, unless you give them a reason to stay and turn the page. Distractions are always beckoning, and nowhere is your grasp on your audience more tenuous.
What you never want to do with your chapter button is make your reader feel at peace. Unless it’s the last chapter. But if your reader thinks, at any other point in the book, “Wow, glad everything worked out,” they will put your book down.
So how do you carry them through to the next chapter? Here are some ideas:
- Cliffhanger: stop in a place that pretty much guarantees a page-turn
- Introduce a new character, plot point, or idea
- Tie into theme: harken back to the Big Idea of your story with a thematic image
- When all else fails, angst: if you do give your character a quieter moment, make sure to dip into Interiority (thoughts, feelings, reactions) and show the reader how unsettled things are under the surface with some worry or anxiety
That said, not every chapter button can be a heart-stopping cliffhanger (unless you are writing a thriller or action-packed novel, like The Hunger Games). That would get exhausting unless, again, it fits with the overall tone and genre of your story. (It could also get predictable and, as a result, have the opposite effect and disengage your audience. You don’t want your reader feeling content, but you also don’t want them thinking, “Oh, gee, I wonder what random bad news will drop out of the sky in this chapter.”) It’s okay to go for low-grade tension with some buttons (the theme and Interiority suggestions, above), as long as you have enough that truly grab your reader in a big way.
For more on this topic, read up on Prime Real Estate.