How ending with a hook can keep readers engaged
Stop me if this sounds familiar. You’re watching your favorite TV series, and even though you know you should have gone to bed an hour ago, it ends on such a cliffhanger that you just “have” to press play and watch the next one.
Or, perhaps you’ve been reading a book, and each time you come to the end of a chapter, you don’t even think: you just flip the page or keep scrolling. You can’t wait to find out what happens.
If this is you as a viewer or reader, then you must provide the same exciting experience for your readers. To do that, you’ll need to give them hooks and cliffs to keep them motivated to read on. In other words, to become a best seller, you’ve got to know how to end a chapter.
When you buy a traditional book, either at a bookstore or online, you get the whole thing at once. Essentially, you’ve already committed your money to the entirety of the story, provided you actually read it. However, newer methods of publishing (like Inkitt and Galatea, among others) gives readers a chance to constantly reevaluate how they feel about a particular story. Basically, is a particular book worth spending more money on to find out what happens next? Since readers are able to constantly reassess that question because they often pay chapter by chapter (making it practically serialized fiction), it’s critical that you meet their needs. And, to be clear: their needs are that they want to eagerly ask themselves at the conclusion of every chapter: what happens next?
When Netflix premiered House of Cards in 2013, they did something totally different than the way every other TV show, up to that point, had been distributed. They gave the entire season to viewers all at once. If this sounds too “duh” to bother mentioning, remember that prior to this, all shows were released one at a time, week by week. In order to find out what happened next, you had to wait until the next show aired, a full seven days later. (Alas, these are the inhumane conditions in which I watch my favorite Bravo shows!) After Netflix created buzz with everyone talking about the same series that they could binge all in the same evening, it changed viewer habits.
It also changed producers and publisher habits. They could find out when or where in a series interest waned. They could find out which characters the audience loved, loved to hate, or just actually hated. Since it’s a for-profit company, they used this information to fine-tune what they offer in the future. Let’s face it, a series won’t be successful if the audience drops off halfway through. In other words, creativity always counted, but now data and the algorithm started to play a bigger role in what was offered.
The same rules apply to books
It’s hard to break into traditional publishing because publishers take big financial risks each time they decide to publish a book. Think about it: they pay the author, editors, copywriters, marketing, cover artists, buy paper and ink, and then have to mail a heavy product around the country or world for distribution. Publishers are all in by the time they decide to do it, and nobody really knows if the product will be a hit. As a result, they’re super conservative about what they take on. If the author doesn’t have a platform already, who are they going to sell the book to? Where is the natural audience? Does it look enough like something they’ve already had success with (but not too similar!) to make the investment worth it?
The truth is, there are way more writers with great books than there are publishers. The good news is that in our digital age, authors have options. They can self-publish and get their stories distributed on sites like Inkitt. Inkitt finds out what readers like, and if a story does well enough, it can be published through Galatea. This is a model that is becoming more and more popular. It’s great because now talented writers with creative ideas can find an audience. It’s more democratic because it’s more inclusive. However, this way of publishing demands that you keep up the interest and intensity of your story all the way through it because the algorithm is watching.
End a chapter with a cliffhanger
Want to know how to end a chapter? With a cliffhanger. The term “cliffhanger” implies maximal drama—in this case, literally hanging onto a cliff. And yes, the reader will definitely turn the page to find out if the person slips and falls or crawls back up to safety. However, you don’t need a life-or-death situation to create that dangling ending. What you need is to conclude with an implied question. It can be as consequential as “will they live or die”? But it can also be “will they hook up or not”? “How will she feel after they do”? “Will he call”? All of these are reasons to read on.
Even if the moment is relatively quiet, like the heroine wondering how the hero feels about her, remember this: If the question is important to the protagonist, it’s important to the reader. Emotional cliffhangers are every bit as important as action ones. Depending on your genre (I’m looking at you, romance!), emotion is why people are there in the first place.
When you end each chapter on a cliffhanger, you get your reader to turn the page. This satisfies all parties. First, it’s fun to write this way. I get a thrill when I see a story I created come together, and I am engaged in what happens next. It’s good times to think “oh damn!” when you write an exciting part, and you look forward to getting back to your project the next day. That joy will come across to the reader, and since your goal is to entertain, you’ll have nailed it. I always figure if I can amuse myself, surely it’ll work on someone else. If you’re bored writing, take the hint. The reader is going to feel the same way.
Knowing how to end a chapter means understanding how to hook your reader. You goal is to keep your audience engaged and wanting more, more, more. With effective cliffhangers, you’ll satisfy readers, algorithms, publishers, and yourself.