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How to write gripping chapter endings in fiction

When reading, I love the anticipation of what happens next when a chapter ends. Providing a gripping chapter ending is a sure way to keep the reader reading. A chapter should end with enough suspense and intrigue or unanswered questions so that the reader is desperate to find out what happens next and turns to the next chapter. The reader needs a reason to turn the page. Flat chapter endings may mean the reader abandons the book. It may also be an anti-climax if a chapter ends with a character going to sleep. Make your chapter endings as enthralling as your chapter openings!

Suggestions for chapter endings

Cliffhanger

A cliffhanger ending is as the phrase suggests: it leaves the reader dangling. Ending a chapter in the middle of a dramatic scene – literally as the earth of the cliff edge is crumbling and the person can’t hold on any longer. The cliffhanger could be a plot twist or new information that is introduced. The reader should be desperate to turn the page to find out what happens next,

Ask a question

In Left You Dead by Peter James (Kindle), Chapter 82 closes with the realisation that someone whom the police thought had been murdered by her husband could in fact still be alive and have planned her own disappearance.

In Left You Dead by Peter James (Kindle), Chapter 82 closes with the realisation that someone whom the police thought had been murdered by her husband could in fact still be alive and have planned her own disappearance.

The fact that both Niall and Eden played chess against each other indicated both were strategists. Was Eden Paternoster still alive? Who was outthinking the other here in a game beyond the board?

<END OF CHAPTER>

A revelation or surprise

A revelation that sends shockwaves through the characters is a perfect way of ending a chapter, ensuring that the reader flips to the next chapter. The end of chapter 4 of The Catch by T.M. Logan (Kindle) is an excellent example of a revelation that floors everyone. Abbie, Ed and Claire’s daughter, has got engaged to Ryan, whom Ed does not trust and is trying to prove that Ryan is not all he makes out to be, so he can stop Abbie from marrying him.

‘It’s a Monday, Mum.’

I looked from my daughter to her new fiancé, but his flawless face gave nothing away.

‘How do you mean, Abs?’ I said quietly. ‘What are you saying?’

‘The wedding date isn’t next year,’ Abbie said, swallowing hard. ‘It’s next month.’

<END OF CHAPTER>

 The next chapter leaves us in no doubt about the effect this revelation has had on Ed and his wife.

 <NEXT CHAPTER>

Very carefully, I put the champagne flute down on the table and grasped onto the arm of the garden chair, anchoring myself, feeling the rough wooden edge dig in my palm.

Claire’s face was frozen, her pen poised in mid-air over her diary. ‘Say that again,’ she said finally.

Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is a technique used by writers to hint that something may happen at a later point in the book. It is a great device to create gripping chapter endings. In Left You Dead by Peter James (Chapter 34, Kindle), a car salesman is desperate to close the sale of a high-performance car, but is concerned about a test drive in wet weather.

Goodman turned right and drove slowly (Thank you, God! Olsen thought) up to the next junction with the wide and relatively busy New Church Road.

‘OK if we head out into some open countryside to exercise her legs?’ Goodman asked.

No, not OK, not at all OK, a voice cautioned inside Larry Olsen’s head. But you need the sodding money badly, very badly! another voice in there shouted more loudly.

<END OF CHAPTER>

Olsen’s negative thoughts carry a sense of foreboding and make the reader wonder what is going to happen when the car is taken out onto open roads.

A surprise arrival

‘Thank you for finding a way to get me out,’ I say at last.

She frowns a little at this as if confused. ‘Don’t thank me. Thank him,’ she says, nodding at the space behind.

My breath catches as I chase her meaning. I look across the low aluminium gate and see him for the first time in years.

‘Seb?’

‘You look like crap,’ he says.

I Know What I Saw, Imran Mahmood, (Chapter 13, Kindle)

We can feel Xander’s relief and curiosity at Seb’s surprise arrival at the police station and are left wondering why he came to help.

Introduce conflict

In the extract below from Kill a Stranger by Simon Kernick (Chapter 34, Kindle), Tom’s revelation at the end of the chapter introduces conflict, which is shown at the start of the next chapter by Sir Hugh Roper admitting he feels manipulated.

‘Which man?’

‘You know, the actor guy.’

I tensed. ‘How do you know about him?’

He took a gulp of the beer, an amused smile on his face. ‘Because I was the one who hired him.’

<END OF CHAPTER>

<NEXT CHAPTER>

I hadn’t expected Tom’s confession and yet it made perfect sense. I’d never trusted that actor’s motives, which at least showed that my instinct for identifying liars hadn’t entirely disappeared. Although it wasn’t good that Kate, my only surviving daughter, could fall for such an obvious deception.

Tom looked triumphant, clearly enjoying his moment of power. He’d wounded me and he knew it. I was never the last person to know something. I felt manipulated, which was deeply unpleasant for a man who’d always considered himself a master manipulator.

After shocking news

In the published example below, the reader is left in suspense, wondering, along with Laurel, what the police are going to say

The detective on the phone had sounded cautious. ‘it could be nothing. But we’d like you to come in anyway.’

‘What have you found?’ Laurel said. ‘Is it a body? What is it?’

‘Please just come in, Mrs Mack.’

Ten years of nothing. And now there was something.

She grabbed her handbag and left the house.

<END OF CHAPTER>

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell (Chapter 4, Kindle),

Shocking last line

The man glances up, gives a single irritated shake of his head, and goes back to his laptop. I’m about to stand up, to walk down the carriage in search of her, when movement outside catches my eye. A figure hurrying past, right by my window. A blonde woman in a rust- coloured jacket.

Kathryn is walking away down the platform.

<END OF CHAPTER>

Trust Me by T.M. Logan (Chapter 1, Kindle)

This is particularly shocking as the narrator has just met Kathryn on a train and was asked by Kathryn to hold her baby while she went to the next carriage to make a telephone call.

What if I can’t create something shocking for every chapter ending?

Not every chapter has to end with a cliffhanger or some sort of shock. There are more subtle ways to end a chapter that will keep the reader turning the page.

Thoughts

In this extract from The Evidence Against You by Gillian McAllister (Chapter 4, Kindle), Izzy, having believed her father murdered her mother eighteen years previously, is now starting to doubt that he committed the crime.  The reader is left in Izzy’s mind, wondering if a miscarriage of justice has taken place. There’s no bombshell dropped, but we’re left wondering along with Izzy.

But what if… what if there is a different story? Another story? One he has had eighteen years to concoct, Nick would say, but Izzy doesn’t agree.

That very first contact her father has made with her has opened the door to something. To doubt. That’s all. Just doubt.

Reasonable doubt.

<END OF CHAPTER>

In the middle of speech

Ending a chapter in the middle of a conversation or even with a character being interrupted is a great way to get the reader to turn the page as they will want to know what was said next. Consider this fictitious example:

Juanita glanced up. It was nearly five. Just a few minutes to go. Thank goodness.

Her work phone rang. Who the hell was calling at this time? She sighed and rolled her eyes.  ‘CEO’s office, Juanita spea—.

<END OF CHAPTER>

<NEXT CHAPTER>

‘Don’t say another word and just listen, or you’ll be sorry.’ Larry paused. He closed his eyes. This better work.

This fictitious example ended with an interruption, and the next chapter started on the other side of the phone call, so we are placed in Larry’s mind, with a switch of point of view.

Change of point of view

Although this is not strictly a way to end a chapter, it’s worth slipping in here that if your book has multiple point-of-view characters, using one point of view per chapter makes the story easier to follow. The change to a new character can be used to show the other side to how the previous chapter ended, as shown in the fictitious example above.

Final words…
  • End a chapter with enough suspense and intrigue or unanswered questions so that the reader is desperate to find out what happens next and turns to the next chapter.
  • Not every chapter ending has to be shocking or a cliffhanger. Giving an unanswered question or something to hint at a problem will create intrigue.
  • Avoid ending a chapter with a lame ending or with someone falling asleep.
References

I Know What I Saw, Imran Mahmood, Raven Books, 2021

Kill a Stranger, Simon Kernick. Headline, 2020

Left You Dead, Peter James, Macmillan, 2021

The Daughter, Michelle Frances, Pan, 2019

The Evidence Against You, Gillian McAllister, Penguin, 2019

Then She Was Gone, Lisa Jewell, Cornerstone Digital, 2017

Trust Me, T. M. Logan, Zaffre, 2021

Work with me

I’m Clare Black, a fiction book editor based in Stockport, UK. I help independent authors prepare for publishing by fixing the important details and improving the readability of their books. I specialise in crime, thriller and contemporary fiction, but I am happy to consider other genres. I am a Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP).

I offer various packages to help indie authors get published and would love the opportunity to discuss your book and how I can help you prepare for publishing.

Email: clare@clareblackediting.com

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