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How Do I End a
Chapter In My Novel?

Even the most deftly written chapter will be diluted if it ends in a bland and mundane manner. The reader has really enjoyed the chapter, but you also need them to feel like getting stuck into the next one.

Put yourself in their place. Have you ended the chapter in a way that makes it impossible for them to put your book down, or have you provided them with a reason to get back to the gardening?


Chapter endings in novels that keep the reader in suspense

There’s nothing like a good cliff-hanger ending to make the reader want to move straight on to the next chapter. In this example, DCI Fletcher, a detective who has found himself framed by corrupt colleagues, has gone for a secret meeting with Ross, an informant, in a bid to find out the truth. But things are about to take a turn for the worse:


Ross ran into the room, fighting for breath after his rare burst of exercise.

‘Police … loads of them … what do they want?’

‘To arrest us or kill us,’ said Fletcher. ‘It depends who’s sent them.’


This chapter ending leaves two huge questions in readers' mind. What are the police there for, and will Fletcher and Ross escape?


The section on chapter beginnings showed how some writers make the mistake of starting a chapter too early, focussing on mundane preliminary occurrences rather than waiting until the real drama is about to begin.

The opposite is also true. Sometimes authors will reach a dramatic point for a chapter ending, and then dilute the drama by carrying on for too long.

In the scene below DCI Fletcher has been told by his boss that someone is leaking information about a case:


‘But you can’t be sure … I mean----’

The chief held up a hand.

‘One thing about a mole is it has to surface eventually. And when it does…’

Fletcher finished his coffee and left the office.


The chief’s line about the mole having to surface, and his hint about what will happen when it does, is full of tension and suspense and would be an excellent point to end the chapter – especially as he has previously dropped hints that Fletcher himself may be under suspicion.

A lot of the impact of his words is lost, however, when we move on to the rather more trivial business of Fletcher finishing his coffee and leaving the office. It would be much better to revise this to:


‘But you can’t be sure … I mean--’

The chief held up a hand.

‘One thing about a mole is it has to surface eventually. And when it does…’


Revealing information in chapter endings

We have seen how posing questions for the reader can be an effective way of keeping them engaged. Another method can be to actually reveal the answer to a question the reader has been thinking about.

Let’s suppose Fletcher has been forced into hiding after discovering widespread police corruption. Here are some ways that chapters could end, with new information that intrigues the reader and encourages them to dive straight into the next chapter.


‘Who I am isn’t important...’

Fletcher threw the phone in the river and walked away.

Tomorrow's papers were going to be very interesting.


Fletcher walked across the waste ground, taking a wary glance over his shoulder at regular intervals.

His face was grim. So far he’d lost his job, his home and his marriage.

And that was just the beginning.


‘Thanks for everything, Anthea, said Fletcher. ‘You should go now.’

‘Just one more thing,’ she said, producing a holdall from the boot of her car. ‘Something that might come in useful.’

Fletcher opened the holdall. His raised his head slowly to look at Anthea.

She smiled. ‘Don’t worry. The safety catch is on.’


Chapter endings in novels that pack an emotional punch

Another effective way for novelists to end a chapter can be with real emotional intensity. This doesn’t necessarily have to be something that affects the future plot; it can just be something that emphasises the huge impact a development has had on one or more of the characters.

In the example below Fletcher has been to see the father of one of his colleagues to tell him about his son’s death.


Fletcher left the house, closing the fragile gate carefully behind him.

Mr MacNair was a tough Scot, a former soldier who’d served in Northern Ireland and the Falklands and seen things no one should have to see.

They’d sat down with malt whisky and Fletcher had told him how his son had died.

Fletcher hoped that in time Mr MacNair would find a way of coping with it.

While it is generally best for novelists to show rather than tell, this example illustrates one of the exceptions. The matter-of-fact way in which the meeting is related builds up to the final line which, though deliberately understated, hints at how devastated Mr MacNair is by the news.


Importantly, Mr McNair’s reaction isn’t spelt out. The reader has to do some work in conjuring up an image of a tough ex-soldier breaking down in tears at the news of his son’s death. Putting themselves in the shoes of one of the characters in such an emotive way draws the reader into the novel – and makes it more likely they will continue reading.


How to end a chapter in your novel: Conclusion

Always think about the effect your chapter ending will have on readers. Will it make them eager to read on? If it’s too late to continue reading, will they lie awake in bed thinking about your book? If the answer is ‘yes’, you’ve written a good chapter ending!


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