Presented by C.K. Volnek
Have you ever been reading a good book and think to yourself, ‘I'll finish this chapter and then go to bed,’ only to get to the end of the chapter and not be able to put the book down? One more chapter. You get to that chapter end and again…you can’t close the book. Again and again, until you find yourself gazing bleary-eyed at the clock two hours later. What kept you from heading off to the comforts of sleep? For me, it seemed it was always an intoxicating page-turning chapter ending.
In our workshop today, you’ll discover how you can keep your reader compelled to stay within your story by creating your own page-turning chapter endings.
A good story (like the ocean) ebbs and flows, morphing from ripples of tranquil waters to swell into crashing breakers of suspense and tension. You can’t let your reader get too comfortable. As soon as you do, they’ll take the exit, blaming the need for sleep, or demands of replying to all those waiting twitter and text messages. We want to keep our readers glued to our pages, especially in those last crucial sentences of the chapter.
A good chapter ending makes your reader want to, need to, have to turn the page to find out what happens next. The last words of your chapter is not the time to neatly tie things up, concluding any torments and letting your characters take a breather. If one problem has been solved, you must make sure another is looming on the horizon, ready to tip the boat back over. Point your reader to the next chapter with a gripping action, question or surprise. Keep them guessing, waiting and anticipating.
So, how can you achieve those compelling final lines? Here are a few ways to make your reader turn that page, followed with examples from my upcoming tween novel, Ghost Dog of Roanoke Island…
The cliff-hanger is just that…a dynamic surge of action or suspense that doesn’t end with the chapter close. It keeps the reader riveted in the moment so they must turn to the next page to find out what happens. In Ghost Dog, I start my first chapter in a hurricane. Jack, my MC, is trying to rescue a Mastiff from the storm and follows him up to the top of a bluff, even though his dad had specifically told him to stay away from the ridge. As Jack searches for the dog, he slips and falls …
The slimy sludge pulled harder. It sucked at his legs and arms. It twirled him around and around, inching closer and closer to the void in the fence, splashing at the ridge until the river of mud slithered over the bluff’s edge…carrying him with it.
You have to turn the page to find out what happens to Jack.
The surprise revelation
I love to sneak something into my story that my reader is not expecting; create a twist in the ending of my chapter that will make my readers turn the page to see where I am taking them.
In another chapter of Ghost Dog, Jack has been telling his new friend, a Native American named Manny, about the dog that has saved him from the monster.
“It’s the dog.” Jack smiled and pointed for Manny to look. “See. He’s a Mastiff.” He stood and whistled to the dog. “Come on boy. Come here.” He patted his leg.
The Mastiff’s dark eyes glinted. He woofed once and ran back into the trees.
“Dang it, dog.” Jack took a step to follow him.
“Stop, Jack.” Manny grabbed at Jack’s arm, his forehead creased. “What are you talking about? I see no dog.”
With this jolt, my reader must turn the page to find out why Manny cannot see the dog.
It’s okay to let your character relax once in a while. They can’t run a marathon through the whole book. But be ready with the next problem or at least a hint of what is to come.
In this chapter of Ghost Dog, Jack has escaped the monster and is safe in bed at the home of a family friend. He is trying to come up with a way to talk his dad into letting him find and keep the big dog he’s seen in the woods.
Jack smiled. His dog. Dad had to let him keep the Mastiff. After all, if it weren’t for this dog, he wouldn’t be here. Jack closed his eyes, the events of the evening cart wheeling in his mind. What was that monster? And where did it come from? He was glad the sheriff was going to check it out. Jack rolled over, reflecting on his run through the woods. How had he ended all the way at the end of the driveway by Mr. Kenny’s place?
Jack bolted, sitting straight up in bed.
Mr. Kenney! He swore he’d shoot the dog if it went on his property.
Trouble is brewing and the reader knows Jack well enough by now to know he’s going to come up with some plan to try to find the dog. But what plan?
The emotional note
I am a sucker for the emotional note. I love a good tug at the heart strings. To me, to end a chapter with this is like super-gluing the pages to my fingers. When I find one of these in a story I’m reading, nothing could pry that book from my hands til I’m way past it.
In one chapter of Ghost Dog, the evil monster is terrorizing and chasing a group of men and boys. In the midst of the fleeing band, one on my vital characters, a boy of 13, makes a startling discovery...
Robert turned his head again and searched the small group of men galloping around him. He wrestled free from Peter’s grip and slid to a stop. The monster howled behind them. Robert’s eyes went wide and he gasped back at the woods.
“Father. Where is my father?” Robert’s voice crackled.
Would you turn the page to find out if the monster had attacked and killed Robert’s father?
Ending with a question can leave your reader wondering what is going to happen next. But be careful. With a question comes an answer and a reader doesn’t want the answer to come too quickly or easily. Let the reader solve the mystery along with the characters. You can keep the reader guessing along by letting your character ask a question or make a statement regarding the problem plaguing them.
In this chapter of Ghost Dog, Jack is trying to figure out what the monster haunting Roanoke Island is and he has confided in Manny in hopes they might unravel the mystery together. But Manny’s response isn’t exactly what Jack expected…
“But if you knew I went to the Grundel’s, why’d you go to my house?” Jack asked Manny. “Were you looking for that thing in the woods?”
Manny’s face went sullen, his mouth a straight line. His dark eyes blazed in the dim lights of the dashboard. “I have been waiting for it for long time now.”
Jack’s eyes widened. Waiting for it? He tried to speak, his voice barely a whisper. “What is it? And why would you wait for it?”
Would you turn the page to find out what it is? Then, you’ll have to read Ghost Dog of Roanoke Island when it comes out September 1, to find out. ;-)
Other things you can try for a great chapter end are:
Revelations…a bold fact or surprise piece of information is a great way to finish a chapter. Let the reader know something big is about to happen.
Deadlines…These add dramatic suspense and create a great mood in a chapter end. A ticking clock; an impending event; the fact that something is going to happen and things will never be the same again. Show your readers how the thickening plot is exploding with the inevitable deadline.
Cut your chapters up…Maybe you’ve got an extra-long chapter with tons of action and suspense. Rather than keeping your reader running for the entire time, manipulate the chapter and force a page-turning chapter close in the middle to allow the pulse to pause and quicken again and again.
So, as you see, there are many great ways to end a chapter and still keep your reader reading. I’d love for you to share your chapter endings and discuss what works for you.
Thanks for stopping by.