Monday, June 20, 2011

Don't Let Them Put Your Book Down! Instead, create page-turning chapter endings.

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

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.

Looming trouble

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?

The question

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.
C.K. Volnek


Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Wonderful examples, Charlie. Thanks for sharing these so eloquently.

Anonymous said...

Great information, Charlie. You have a great style - the Goddess fo Chapter endings - and Ghost Dog is most definitely a page turner! LOL I love that book.
You've given me a number of tips to take into consideration - all good.
Thank you for sharing.

Charlie said...

Joylene and Kay Dee, Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you liked the workshop and I hope you took something away from it. Do you have any chapter endings to share?
Thanks again.
C.K. Volnek

Jane Richardson said...

Hey Charlie, great post! I especially enjoyed your excerpts, Ghost Dog will be a must-buy for me! Right now I'm working on short stories, but your page-turner ideas are definitely as valid for episodic short works too. Thanks for all the great ideas!

Jane x

Charlie said...

Hi Jane,

Glad you could glean some useful tips for your short works as well. You are correct, the short story must ebb and flow as well. I need to quit talking about the water before I get sea-sick. :-p

Kay LaLone said...

Hi, Charlie

Thanks for the great information. I love using the cliff-hanger for my chapter endings, but I'm going to try some of the other ideas. I really like the looming trouble example. Thanks for sharing.

Sara Durham Writer ~ Author said...

Charlie, I love using water for analogies:) All very good points and reminders on how to keep the reader wrapped up in the story! Great workshop, and like so many other stories at Muse, I'm looking forward to Ghost Dog!

Here is a chapter ending to a WIP of mine for fun:

Pale light from the half moon outside provided enough illumination for him to see his clothes were as he’d left them. He reached into his trouser pocket but the cloth and stone were no longer there. Trying not to panic, he checked the other pocket, then turned his suitcase out on the floor.
After checking every pocket, every corner of his suitcase and his room, he sat down on his bed and sighed. It seemed he’d been robbed, and only one thing was missing. The strange stone he’d found only that afternoon. It was simply gone...

Cheers, Sara

Jen Black said...

Hi Charlie, you quote some really good examples here. I try and end on a cliff-hanger - sometimes it comes naturally, and sometimes I have to work hard to arrange it!

Charlie said...

Hi all,

Kay - Thanks for stopping. You are so sweet. I'm glad you were able to take something away from my workshop.

Sara - Thanks for submitting a chapter ending. This is a great sample of the Revelation approach. You've shown the reader that something big has happened and things will not be the same. Great job. I hope you MC finds the stone again.

Jen - Thanks for the note. I agree, sometimes a cliff-hanger comes extremely natural and other times, you have to manipulate the chapter. But it is good to mix the chapter endings up as well, varying from cliff-hangers to emotional endings to revelations.

Thanks again to one and all for visiting my workshop today.
C.K. Volnek

Lisa Forget said...

Hi Charlie,
Great workshop! Thank you for sharing your wonderful advice. After reading your post, I went back to check my chapter endings of the wip I'm editing. Although there's some tweaking to do, it seems that I'm on the right track! I'll be sure to keep your advice close at hand!

Here's a sample from my YA wip "The Powers Within":

I looked over at the woman, who before today was just another teller of fortunes, and as we stared at the bright white light that radiated from her, I knew that she was more than that - much, much more.

“What are you?” I asked, stunned and breathless.

“You came here today to find the truth, did you not?” She whirled around, the hem of her flowing silk dress mirrored her fluid movement as she walked determinedly across the wooden floor toward the locked room. She paused at the door, her hand resting on the ancient brass knob. “Tonight, you will know all that I know about the Talisman and why it is imperative that we find it before Renoir does. Follow me.”

Thank you!!

Charlie said...

Hi Lisa,

Thanks for stopping by and offering a chapter ending. I got goose bumps reading it. Great job. It a great example of revalation/looming trouble. I want to turn the page to see what your MC is going to learn.

Glad you feel your WIP is on track with the chapter endings. I remember a workshop with Stephen Mooser; he commented about a book he'd read that wasn't exactly the greatest written piece but he couldn't put it down because it had super chapter endings. That impacted me how important chapter endings really are.

Thanks for stopping by.
C.K. Volnek

Christopher Hoare said...

Hi Charlie: The easiest way to get a cliff hanger in an action scene is to write the whole thing and then split it into two chapters at a suspenseful spot.

However, don't tire the reader with the same gimmick too often---as I see from your examples you haven't done.

The name cliff-hanger comes from very early in silent movie days with such movies as "The Perils of Pauline" where each Saturday's movie ended with her about to fall off a cliff or some similar peril. The device soon became a cliche to avoid, but I see it's on its way back with third rate TV faire.

Barbara said...

Great advice, Charlie, and perfect examples. I'm already thinking about how I can use them in my latets WIP.

ColoradoKate said...

Really helpful analysis, Charlie--I've never seen chapter endings categorized this way. Thanks!

Wordsprings said...

I couldn't stop in the middle of reading this article. You do a great example of page turning by letting us know there are more ways to accomplish the desired effect.

Thanks, I'm going to go check the book I've just published to see what I did.

I'm certainly keeping this in mind for my current project under construction.

I hope I can come back and refer to this when it's archived.

Thanks C K

Charlie said...

Greetings. You all make me smile. I'm so humbled by your attention.

Christopher - Thanks for the great ideas as well as the history behing 'cliff'hanger.' Very interesting.

Barbara - I'm glad I was able to get you thinking. Good luck with your WIP

Kate - I'm glad I was able to bring something you'd never seen before. I have done quite a bit of research on chapter endings and it's a special part of writing for me.

Glenda - blush. Thank you for your kind words. I'm glad you liked my post and I hope it helps you in future projects.

You're all the greatest friends ever!
God Bless
C.K. Volnek

Jenna Storm said...

Great advice and examples Charlie. I was just thinking about the need to keep my reader going and running through some ideas. Your post comes at a great time. Thanks.

Charlie said...

Hi Jenna,

Glad I could come up with something at the right time for you. :-) So glad you stopped by!
C.K. Volnek

JerryR said...

hey Charlie. Love your examples. And thanks for sharing this info. It'll be very helpful in the near future.

Mike Hays said...


Do you map out and plan what type of chapter ending you want to use in certain situations or do you get to the point and use the most natural fitting transition?
Thanks for an excellent workshop. Now I really want to read Ghost Dog.


Anonymous said...

Great workshop. Thank you for all of the wonderful examples you shared from your book. I look forward to reading it.

Charlie said...

Greetings! I'm so honored to have you all stop by.

Jerry R - thanks for the note. I'm glad I can help with your writing. That's what I love most about the writing community is the sharing!

Mike - You ask a great question. I do actually plan out most of my chapter endings. Sometimes, that's as simple as splitting it in the middle of the action or comtemplating that next revelation. Other times, it takes some manipulating or slicing to make the ending riveting. But I put a lot of thought into my chapter endings. I don't want to lose my reader by letting them get comfortable at the chapter ending. I'm afraid if they get too comfortable, they might night come back. :-( Thanks for your comments and I hope you'll enjoy Ghost Dog. It was a lot of fun to research and write. Such a profound mystery...whatever DID happen to the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island?

Susanne - Thanks so much for your kind response. I'm glad you found my examples of help and hope you'll enjoy my book.

Thanks to one and all for making me feel so welcomed. :-) Love you all.
C.K. Volnek