How to Write Chapter Endings That Make Readers Want to Turn the Page

Chapter endings. We don't hear as much about them as we do about beginnings, do we?

But compelling chapter endings are just as important to writing success as grabby beginnings. Especially in these days of the "Look Inside" feature on most retail sites. 

These days, a book can sink or fail on the strength of the "Look Inside" and how much it makes the reader want to go onwhen going on means actually, um, paying for the book.

Just for grins, I decided to check the "Look Inside" of some of the most popular novels right now, and checked the last sentence of the first chapters. I thought some of them were typical of that author's style, but others were surprising. So I came up with...

A "Chapter Ending" Contest 

I chose some random books from Amazon's top twenty bestseller list and copied the ending of the first chapters from the "Look Inside".

Can you match the ending of the first chapter to the book title or author?

If you get the right combination of numbers and letters, you'll be eligible to win a copy of HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE, written by one of those top-20 bestsellers, Catherine Ryan Hyde (with a little help from moi). Or you can choose POLISH YOUR FICTION (see below), by our guest, Jessica Bell.

And to make the contest even more fun, add your own chapter ending sentence or sentences (up to 40 words).

Catherine Ryan Hyde herself will pick the best one (think how cool that would look in a blurb or query!) More below. 

Stop by next week to find out if you've won. I'll have the answers and the winner's names in next Sunday's blogpost

The Bestsellers

1) Inferno by Dan Brown, 

2) Life after Life by Kate Atkinson.

3) Gone, Girl by Gillian Flynn

4) Take me With You by Catherine Ryan Hyde

5) Burn by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

The First Chapter Endings

A) I felt an immediate, intense need to get inside. By the time I'd gone twenty feet, my neck bubbled with sweat. The sun was still an angry eye in the sky. 

You have been seen.

My gut twisted and I moved quicker. I needed a drink.
 B) Earlier tonight, her original mission had gone horribly awry. The coo of a single dove had changed everything.

Now she had come to make it right.
C) "I'll be up," August said. "Just knock."

Then he spent the rest of the day wondering how big a mistake he had actually made.
D) "This isn't a drill, gentlemen," she said, looking up at the Bennett safe house, growing rapidly now on the flat screen. "Welcome to life and death."
E) Around the table, guns were pulled from holsters and pointed at her. One breath. One shot.

Ursula pulled the trigger.

Darkness fell.
And now here is some great advice on how to write your own chapter endings from Australian writing teacher and author Jessica Bell, editor of the IndieStructible Anthology and author of a great series of writing books. She's going to tell us how to write chapter endings that will make those readers plunk down their hard-earned cash to read what comes next. 


by Jessica Bell

A good chapter ending is like having one mouthful of your favourite food left on your plate, but not yet feeling full, so you go for seconds ... and we hope, thirds, and fourths.

The key to a great chapter ending is to introduce a new conflict.

It doesn’t have to be much; a hint of what is to come in the next chapter will suffice. Nor does it have to be anything groundbreaking. It could be as simple as revealing something that changes readers’ opinion about a significant character, or reveals a new motive. Or it could be as complex as hinting at the conclusion to the story, but not revealing enough information for the reader to be entirely sure that’s the case.

In other words, end with something that poses a new question, or hints at an answer, for the reader.

You may think it’s difficult to do this at the end of every chapter. If so, your chapters might be too short. Could you be mistaking the end of a scene for the end of a chapter?

Chapters do not need to end where a scene ends. You can have multiple scenes in a single chapter. Most authors divide their scenes with a line space, or a centered symbol such as three asterisks.

I advise you comb through your manuscript to locate all the turning points in your story and reorganize your chapters so they end where the turning points begin. On some occasions it might simply be a case of rearranging your sentence order to give your chapter endings more punch.

Have a look at the following examples and consider how much more powerful the second version is as a chapter ending.

Weak chapter ending:

I stare at my computer screen, clenching my teeth, flexing my fists under the desk. I click my email closed to reveal a shot of me and Celeste as teenagers in our murky green school uniforms, her feathery blonde hair teased high enough to nest squirrels, my fringe gelled into a wave big enough to surf through. 

It was three weeks before I decided to skip tryouts for the football team because she told me she was pregnant and wasn’t sure if it was mine. She blew cigarette smoke into my mouth, in the hope I might get turned on and forget about it.

Strong chapter ending:

I stare at my computer screen, clenching my teeth, flexing my fists under the desk. I click my email closed to reveal a shot of me and Celeste as teenagers in our murky green school uniforms. 

She’s blowing cigarette smoke into my mouth, her feathery blonde hair teased high enough to nest squirrels, my fringe gelled into a wave big enough to surf through. It was three weeks before I decided to skip tryouts for the football team.

Because she told me she was pregnant.

And wasn’t sure if it was mine.

What does the second example do? It ends on something that is bound to change readers’ opinion of Celeste. And not only Celeste. It could also change readers’ opinion about the narrator. 

For example, the reader might have more sympathy for him now and want to read on to see if he receives any concrete evidence regarding his paternal status.

Sure, the first example triggers this reaction too, but it’s definitely weaker. 

Why? Because this new information is hidden between distracting description, and it makes it sound like something the narrator just thought to mention because he was reminded of it. 

But by isolating those last two sentences in the strong example, not only does this new information have a more powerful impact, but it also shows it has great significance to the plot.

Here’s a checklist so you can polish your own chapter endings

1. Do your chapter endings pose a new question, or hint at an answer to a question related to your plot?

2. If not, locate the turning points in your story and end your chapters there.

3. If necessary, rearrange the sentence order so that the most impactful information is the last thing you read.

Jessica Bell is a contemporary fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter/ guitarist and the Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal as well as the director of the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca. She makes a living as a writer/editor for English Language Teaching Publishers worldwide, such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, MacMillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning. Connect with Jessica online: Website | Retreat & workshop | Blog | Vine Leaves Literary Journal | Facebook | Twitter

How about you, Scriveners? How are your chapter endings? Do they leave your reader hanging on the proverbial cliff? Do you have any questions for Jessica? 

The Contest

Choose Part #1 or Part #2 or both.

Part #1: In your comment, match the numbers of the books to the letter of the quote you think belongs, in this format 1) A, 2) B, etc. 

We'll have the answer in next week's post.

If there's more than one winner I'll go to and choose a winner.

We will gift that winner with a copy of the ebook HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE

Part #2 Give us the ending (up to 40 words) of your own WIP's first chapter (or segment, if it's a short story.)

We will gift a second copy of HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE to the author of the best final sentence of your first chapter.

For either prize, Jessica has generously offered a copy of POLISH YOUR FICTION from Jessica if you prefer, or if you already have HOW TO BE A WRITER.

NOTE: If you have a WordPress blog, do NOT sign in with your WordPress ID. Google will have a hissy fit. They demand a Google ID because they are a big tech company and can get away with whatever they *&%# want. If you have gmail or are on Google Plus, you have a Google ID. If that doesn't work, send it to me in an email and I'll post it.

Amazon #1 Bestseller Catherine Ryan Hyde will judge. 

Entries close on Thursday, October 16th at Midnight, Pacific Time

Winners will be announced on this blog on Sunday, October 19th. You will have one week to claim your prize. Contact me at annerallen dot allen at gmail dot com to get your book.



Want more advice on how to self-edit your manuscript? Check out Jessica’s new release:

 Polish Your Fiction: A Quick & Easy Self-Editing Guide.

Kindle US Kindle UK Kindle CA iBooks Kobo Nook Kindle AUS

Are you ready to publish or submit to a literary agent? You might be. But is your manuscript as squeaky clean as you think? This book will help turn your manuscript into a shiny book. With more than ten years’ experience as an editor and author of both fiction and nonfiction, Jessica Bell offerstried and tested advice on the quickest and easiest ways to polish different areas of Writing Style, Consistency of Prose, Grammar, Punctuation, Typography, and Layout.

Each section is armed with a numbered checklist for moments when you need that “at-a-glance” reminder and nifty Microsoft Word tricks that will save you time. At the end of the book there are also magnificent accounts of editorial mistakes other authors have made during their careers, to show you that no matter how many times a book is edited, something always slips through—so don’t be so hard on yourself!


Writers’ Village International Short Fiction Contest $24 entry fee. Prizes of $1600, $800, $400 and $80. A further ten Highly Commended entrants will receive a free entry in the next round. Professional feedback provided for all entries! Any genre: up to 3000 words. Deadline December 31st.

SCHNEIDER FAMILY BOOK AWARDS: NO ENTRY FEE. These awards honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences. Three awards of $5000 each will be given annually in each of the following categories: birth through grade school (age 0-10), middle school (age 11-13) and teens (age 13-18). May be fiction, biography, or other form of nonfiction. Deadline December 1, 2014. 

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS LITERARY FESTIVAL SHORT FICTION CONTEST $25 ENTRY FEE. Submit a short story, up to 7000 words. Grand Prize: $1,500, plus airfare (up to $500) and accommodations for the next Festival in New Orleans, VIP All-Access Festival pass for the next Festival ($500 value), plus publication in Louisiana Cultural Vistas magazine. Contest is open only to writers who have not yet published a book of fiction. Deadline November 16th.

For NEW WRITERS! THE FICTION DESK NEWCOMER'S PRIZE ENTRY FEE £8. First prize £500, second prize £250. Short fiction from 1,000 - 5,000 words. Writers should not have been previously published by The Fiction Desk, and should not have published a novel or collection of short stories in printed form. Deadline October 31st.

GLIMMER TRAIN VERY SHORT FICTION AWARD $15 fee. Maximum length: 3,000 words. 1st place wins $1,500, publication in Glimmer Train Stories, and 20 copies of that issue. 2nd place wins $500 (or, if accepted for publication, $700 and 10 copies). 3rd place wins $300 (or, if accepted for publication, $700 and 10 copies). Deadline October 31.

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