Approaching how to end a chapter is tricky territory. It’s very easy to lose your reader in the white space and page break 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.
When you’re strategizing how to end a chapter, you never want to 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.
How To End A Chapter In a Compelling Way
- 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.
Balance High and Low-Grade Tension
That said, not every chapter ending 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 chapter endings (the theme and Interiority suggestions, above), as long as you have enough that truly grab your reader in a big way.
For more on how to end a chapter, read up on Prime Real Estate in my post on how to start a book.
When you invest in my book editing services, I do a close evaluation of all aspects of your story — including your chapter endings.