I’m going to spend the next couple of weeks talking about endings. I’m past the halfway point on my third novel, which also happens to be the conclusion of a series I’ve been working on for the better part of six years. The end is in sight, so naturally endings are on my mind!
You can read more on scene building here: Scene Building Basics, and on launching your scenes here: Go For Launch: Start Your Scene Strong, but today, let’s focus on ending scenes or chapters. We should try to end scenes or chapters in such a way that readers want to keep reading and not close the book. Here are some ways to do that:
Close with a cliffhanger.
Every chapter can’t end this way, but when it’s appropriate, it’s an effective technique. Did the main character round a corner and come face to face with a dragon? Is she trapped in a building just as the bombs are about to fall? Sometimes I’ll use the cliffhanger ending when I’m going to change POV’s. In one tense battle scene, my female main character runs straight into an enemy battalion while trying to escape from a military prison. It was a good place to leave her while we switched to her male counterpart, who we’d left trapped in a building about to be leveled by a missile strike.
Leave readers with question.
Ending the scene or chapter with an open question can build suspense. If the killer has been captured, then who murdered the latest victim? Less intense than a cliffhanger, a good question will still keep readers turning the pages to learn more.
End with a revelation.
When we leave readers with a question or a cliffhanger, at some point we have to give them an answer. Crafting a scene that will provide an answer can be just as much fun and have just as much punch. “You’re a wizard, Harry.” That revelation certainly kept me reading further. Those “aha” moments, when done well, are exciting and satisfying and keep readers engaged in the story.
Finish with a surprise or a twist.
Surprises or twists pivot a story and add complexity to the plot. A trusted colleague is really a double agent. As a reader, the moment when I realize things aren’t what they seem is an exciting one. Ending a scene or chapter with a twist can maximize impact and keep readers wanting more.
Entice with intriguing dialogue.
All kinds of information can be communicated through dialogue. Good dialogue can reveal facts, show character, and build intensity in a scene. Ending a scene or chapter with a dialogue sequence adds variety to scene structure, and is also effective in delivering emotional depth to a scene.
There’s no one right way to end a chapter or a scene, and in fact, using different techniques will keep the prose interesting and engaging. The idea is to keep readers turning the pages. Good endings will help do the job.