Wordy Wednesday: Chapter Endings

Oh goodness.

It is currently 7:08 AM… on Thursday.

I began this post yesterday, but I somehow managed to fall asleep at 9:30, so I didn’t get a chance to finish. (#Oops #YOLO #CollegeLyfe ?)

I’ve spent the past week and a half doing really intense revision work (like: Spend Every Free Moment Not in Class Revising kind of revision work), so I’ve been tired and not sleeping well (haven’t had time to exercise, so my legs are really restless), and… yeah. I guess it finally caught up with me last night.

Anyway: please forgive this terrible transgression against you, oh dear Wordy Wednesday reader. This makeup blog post is going to have to be a quick one, because besides not finishing writing it last night, I also slept through time I was supposed to spend on a lit paper due in a few hours. And I, ya know, still haven’t chosen a topic or anything. (I am ROCKING that life thing right now.)

This week’s (belated) Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.

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As mentioned above, I’m currently in the middle of some really intense revisions.

Mostly this has involved something along the lines of what I talk about in this post (restructuring by scene) and *cough* this post (strengthening character development in the supporting cast).

(Spoiler: all these blog posts have to do with the single round of revisions I’ve been working on since, like, March. It’s all just been culminating in the mad dash at the end these past couple weeks.)

I’ve finally reached the point at which I need to actually read the manuscript, to make sure my changes work and make other changes that are difficult out of context. For example: strengthening the line-by-line writing. And although I’m only on, like, Chapter Nine right now, I’ve already found several chapters that go on too long.

Not like, “Woe is me, this chapter is 2,576 words long and I wanted it to be 2,574!” but like, “What is the point of this paragraph at the end? This solidifies the end of the chapter too much. This is too comfortable of an ending. DELETE, DELETE, DELETE.”

Chapter endings should not be comfortable. If they’re comfortable, what’s the point of continuing reading? They should be ominous. They should be uneasy. They should be surprising.

It’s called a cliffhanger for a reason.

You always want to leave something unresolved at the end of a chapter. Whether your protagonist is being accused of cheating on his math test or she’s literally hanging off a cliff, this situation needs to be unresolved so that the reader will turn immediately to the next chapter.

Take it one step further: don’t give all the info in a cliffhanger. Make the reader have to turn the page not only to learn how the situation ends, but the rest of the details of what’s even going on.

Are you more likely to read on from, “The haunted house creaked. I searched the room for a way out, but the only exit was through the door I’d come. I stepped towards it and the knob jiggled. It turned. In stepped the butler.”

Ooor: “The haunted house creaked. I searched the room for a way out, but the only exit was through the door I’d come. I stepped towards it and the knob jiggled. It turned.”

If you leave off in what feels like it could still be the middle of a scene, or end the chapter with your protagonist not quite learning all the information you led the reader to believe they were supposed to, etc., etc.–that is more likely to keep your reader going.

SURPRISE!

The SURPRISE! chapter ending requires you to pull a one-eighty at the very end of your chapter. Like the very end. Like in the very last sentence.

While the protagonist (and reader) have been concerned about something else–like someone accusing him of cheating on the math test–an entirely different problem has snuck up on him. Or maybe this problem literally does come out of nowhere and it’s not that the protag has been misleading his audience by focusing on something else, but that BOOM! This is an entirely new and not expectable problem!

A classmate drops dead in front of him. The super villain shoots him with a freeze ray from behind. The possibilities of a SURPRISE! ending are endless. They’re there to shock.

Make the reader think.

I don’t really suggest using this one, because it’s hard to make it seem not Super Written (and to make it an ending that keeps the reader from turning the light out for the night), but I have seen it done well in a few novels, so I figured I should include it.

When your protagonist spends time thinking, so does your reader. When you end a chapter with a character thinking (whether with a statement or an outright question), that leaves the reader really thinking, as they turn to the next chapter.

This can be dangerous. It can give the reader time to figure out something you don’t want them to figure out yet or, more commonly, it can leave the reader not feeling invested enough to keep reading.

Because when a reader sits back to ponder a statement or question the protagonist just asked, the reader disconnects from the story to do that. They evaluate the story as a whole, rather than staying right there, right then with the protagonist, like you want them to. And this easily leads to it not feeling like an urgent enough necessity to start the next chapter that night.

Be careful with this.

Reveal new information.

This is similar to both a cliffhanger or SURPRISE! ending, but less in-your-face and really only useful for chapters towards the beginning of your novel. It doesn’t build a ton of tension, but is just intriguing enough to keep the reader going.

This is information your protagonist probably already knows, but only now chooses to reveal to the reader. Some juicy bit of character development or world-building. It doesn’t do as much to build tension, because if the protag already knows it, the reader knows it’s not going to be some shocking revelation that guides the plot. But it does leave the reader curious.

Most importantly: leave the reader wanting more.

No matter how you end your chapter, the one thing you NEED to do is leave your reader wanting more.

Like I said: chapter endings should not be c0mfortable.

If the end of Chapter Eight is comfortable, then–like me–you’ve got some deleting to do.

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Thanks for reading!

Now, off to scramble through that lit paper.

~Julia

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