How to End a Chapter

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.

how to end a chapter, chapter ending
You have to give readers a compelling reason to turn the page at the end of a chapter — otherwise, they’ll put your book down.

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. (More on chapter structure here.) 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 story 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.

12 Replies to “How to End a Chapter”

  1. I love the angst, especially in MG when there is something completely mortifying going on, that always gets me to turn the page. Great tips, thanks 🙂

  2. What an amazing coincidence! I just blogged about this exact same topic at Utah Children’s Writers. I agree with everything!

    Hope you had a great trip!

  3. All the books on my fave list are written by authors who are skilled at this. Point well made, as usual.

    Have a great week!

  4. This is such a good post, and very timely as I’m embarking on a series of chapter books and revising a middle grade novel. Thank you!

  5. Thank you for the list! I’m unfamiliar with the theme method, though. If you have a chance, I’d love a couple of examples to read (even if you just point me to a book that uses this method a few times). Thanks!

  6. I often discuss cliffhangers with children when I’m in schools on author visits, and their reaction when asked if they like cliffhangers is usually mixed, but very wise too. Kids say they find cliffhangers frustrating, but also love the excitement, and that desire to read on. Our readers, however young (I write fantasy adventures for 8-12s), do know that we’re pushing their buttons!

  7. Thanks for the post, short and to the point. Bookmarking this for reference.

  8. I love cliffhangers, but you are right. A book full of them can be exhausting!

  9. Oooh, great points. It’s easy to overdo a good thing–ANYTHING. Even cliffhanger chapter endings; thanks for the reminder.

    Ha, I always think of RL Stine; I used to read his books to my daughters, and there was one chapter where he “had” to end with a cliffhanger, and it was all tense and creepy with unexpected noises behind the MC. We turned the page to the next chapter and Stine wrote something like: “It was just his mother, coming home from getting groceries.” Gah!

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