Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Published: June 22, 2012

How we choose to close a chapter or scene is as important as how we begin. Ending in action or dialogue, leaving the reader with questions, will encourage readers to go on and read just one more page. As with opening lines, closers should also be varied.

These examples leave the reader anticipating what will happen next:
“I take it that’s the man in your life.” [1]

“What on earth do you know about unhappy?” [2]

“I hope you enjoyed it, bitch,” I said, and I turned as quick as I could and brought the brick down on Calvin’s hand. [3]

Each is different, although the first two use interrupted dialogue as a closer, to instill in the reader the urge to turn the page and learn how the other character replied. The last also uses dialogue, but mixed with narrative to create a brilliant cliffhanger.

Scenes and chapters should end in a cliffhanger of sorts to make readers turn the page. If our reader is up until the wee hours because one last chapter just keeps turning into one more last chapter, we’ve done our job well.

A cliffhanger is a plot device in which the author leaves the character in a sort of dilemma or confronted with a shocking revelation. Cliffhangers are used to ensure the reader comes back to see how the events will play out and make a great tool for ending scenes and chapters.

But how can a writer create a cliffhanger that keeps the reader eager to turn that page? First and foremost, we must pace their delivery properly. Cliffhangers should follow a period of rising suspense before a slight easing of the tension to shoot back up again until the scene reaches its climax. The following scene or chapter should pick up at the moment we left off, but not necessarily resolve the climax right away.
Instead, it could slowly bring the event to a close and then begin building toward the next cliffhanger. A cliffhanger interrupts the dialogue or the action at a critical moment to bait the reader into turning the page.
We recommend saving cliffhangers for chapter and scene endings alone and never for novel endings. We don’t care if the novel is the first or tenth in a series. Readers deserve a satisfying ending. They’ve come along with us through emotionally wrenching, action packed, and captivating chapters. Do they deserve to be left wondering what happened to the characters or how the conflict was resolved? No, and they know it. If we leave our readers hanging like that at the novel end we risk losing them forever. The final line at the ending of the novel is possibly the most important. It’s the one that lingers in the reader’s mind.

Of course, different series use different treatments. In J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Patricia Briggs’ Mercedes Thompson series, Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, or Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse novels, there’s a story arc that encompasses the entire series, but each book has its own adventure that is resolved in its closer.

Writer’s Companion, Renee Miller & Carlos Cortes

[1] Ally Carter, Don’t Judge a girl by Her Cover
[2] Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin
[3] Charlaine Harris, From Dead to Worse  

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