Ending Scenes and Chapters

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It’s the end – but not the end. The chapter is over, and you feel the need to mark this conclusion somehow, but you don’t know what to do. Should you invent a cliffhanger? You don’t have anything witty to say here. How do you wrap up a chapter, anyway? Good news! It’s much easier than you think.

Do You Really Need that Cliffhanger?

It’s amazing our characters have fingernails left at all after all the dangling we’ve subjected them to. There is good news for your characters’ manicure bills, though: you don’t actually need to end every chapter in a cliffhanger. You really, really don’t.

The point of a cliffhanger is to cause an emotional reaction that readers will remember for a week, a month, or even a year. That reaction brings them rushing back when periodical releases hit the shelves. Unless you’re writing a web comic or releasing your novel one chapter a time, you don’t need that kind of suspense between the end of one scene and the start of the next. Your audience probably won’t wander away in the time it takes to turn a page. If they do, you have bigger problems to address.

Maybe Let the Witticisms Hang onto that Cliff

We like to end things with a quip. Most writers pride themselves on being at least a little bit witty, and it’s tempting to always sign off with something sharp or clever. The problem with ending each chapter with a snarky quote, a humorous thought, or any other one-liner is that they feel disingenuous.

If your friends ended every conversation the way many writers end scenes, you’d be confused at best and annoyed at worst. You probably wouldn’t end up keeping those fiends in your life for very long. Readers pick up on contrived endings, and they typically come off as pandering, childish, or even patronizing. Don’t let a questionable quip at the end of your scene be the thing readers remember.

Forms Are Optional

Although using the traditional plot arc structure for each scene is a tried and true way to tell a story, it isn’t the only way to express your narrative. According the traditional model, each scene should be a microcosm of your work as a whole. That means every scene needs and introduction, rising action, falling action, and a conclusion that wraps all of these elements together. Scenes typically feature a few characters in a single space during one, particular moment.

If that works for you, terrific! If not, try experimenting. Your scenes may take place in one room, or they may include different characters, different locations, and even different times. Prose is flexible, and you can use it as you please.

Just Relax

Even if you decide you want each chapter to be a full mini-story in its own right, you still only need to worry about one conclusion – the end of the book. Have fun with your chapters, and relax as you conclude them. You don’t need a cliffhanger, grand reveal, snarky aside, or moving quote.

There is much more to your scene than its conclusion, and you should spend your energy making the meat of your chapter the best it can be. The key to crafting the perfect conclusion to a scene is to relax. Just write. If you don’t like how the end of the chapter reads as part of your first full draft, you can always change it.

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