Chapter Endings–As Important as Beginnings

Chapter Endings–As Important as Beginnings

Chapter endings are as important as beginnings.  Read the endings of your chapters.  Go ahead.  Are they riveting? Are you anxious to turn the page? Will your readers be?  Take a closer look at the ho hum ones and begin to focus on endings that would compel a reader to keep going.

I skimmed through some books to see how those authors ended their chapters.  Here’s one from Deception Point by Dan Brown.  “Rachel felt weightless for an instant, hovering over the multi-million-pound block of ice.  Then they were riding the iceberg down – plummeting into the frigid sea.”  The reader is not likely to put the book down at this point, at least until they find out what happened to Rachel and her friend.  Brown could have ended with something like: “Rachel stood motionless on the block of ice and prayed the block wouldn’t fall into the sea.”  Nah.

Here’s another.  “Emergency Room.  Code Blue.  Susan ran for the elevator.”  This is from Chelsea Cain’s The Night Season.  What if Cain had stopped at Code Blue?  Would it have the same impact as her running for the elevator?

I believe this idea of compelling endings is not only important for fiction but for non-fiction as well.  Take Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken: “Sometime that day, or perhaps the day before, he had taken off his uniform, picked up a sack of rice, slipped into the Naoetsu countryside, and vanished.”  Vanishing, dying, running, falling, are all great ways to end a chapter on a high, cliffhanger note.

How about this from my mystery, Time Exposure: “As he sank to his knees, he lifted his head to gaze up at the Blackhawk.  Captain Geoffrey Farrell smiled down at him.  A boot to the head put him out.”  Or this from Pure Lies, in the form of dialogue: “Well, you may be nuts and I wouldn’t testify to this in court, but between you, me and the microscope, honey, these signatures were all written by the same person.”

Scene endings can follow this rule to some extent, but it might get tiresome if every scene did.  I think you have to let the reader rest once in a while and catch up with the action.

Not all chapter endings must end on an action note either.  Many can end with inner conflict or conflict between characters.  Gives the chapter tension.  What happens between these two people next?  Does Anna May leave her husband?  Does mom throw Maynard out of the house?  Does little Davey start to cry?  Is Barbara in danger of being fired, of losing her health insurance, of missing a plane to an important event?   If you care about the characters, you will turn the page.

I’d love to hear some chapter endings you think are great . . . or terrible.  When we can recognize what works and what doesn’t, our writing benefits in the long-run.

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Quick!  Turn the Page!

Quick! Turn the Page!

“Amanda stepped off the elevator on the lower level of the parking garage.  At ten o’clock on a Saturday night, the level was empty except for her car . . . and one other she didn’t recognize.  A sound of dripping water and the soft scurrying of animal feet – rats? – made her throat close. 

She swiveled her head in search of anything or anyone nearby then took a tentative step toward her car.  Then another step and faster, faster, until she was almost at a sprint.  Her high heels clicked on the concrete floor and echoed in the cavernous space.  Finally, she reached her car.  Damn, why didn’t she have her keys ready? 

Amanda fumbled through her bag, her heart now ratcheted up, pumping blood through her ears.  All she could hear was the furious whooshing sound of her own fear.

There, her keys, at the bottom, now in her hand.  She clicked the fob and the latches opened.  She reached for the handle, but before her fingers closed around it, she detected a breathy squeak of rubber soled shoes behind her.  She dropped her bag, swung around with a gasp, hands clenched into fists, ready to defend herself and  . . .”

So, what do you think?  Tension?  I always love the late-at-night parking garage scene.  Scares the heck out of me, even now.

What is tension, really, and why is it so important in writing? Even if you’re not writing a mystery.  Even if you’re writing non-fiction.

The noun tension has its Latin roots in “tendere,” which means to stretch, and tension occurs when something is stretched either physically or emotionally to its limits.  Strained relations between countries can cause political tensions to rise.  Tension can be added to a rubber band by stretching it to its limits.  By the way, you can release nervous tension by shooting that rubber band at the local bully.

Tension is the means to get your reader to turn the page, particularly if it’s used at the end of a chapter as a cliffhanger.  People, for the most part, don’t like to leave things unresolved.  They want to find the solution, even if it’s an unsatisfactory one (that’s another story.) 

While you cannot (or should not) distort facts when writing non-fiction, tension around real events can ramp up the readers’ pulse just as thrillers can.  Take “The Monuments Men,” for instance.  How tense can a situation be when you have a group of men and women trying to save the art and monuments of a Europe at war?  When, finally the fighting ends, and they discover, in a dark, damp mine in Austria, a cache of hidden loot that would make King Midas gasp?  When, they manage to “derail” an art train bound for Germany with stolen paintings of Masters like Leonardo.

Now that’s tension.  That’s real life.  Whew.

I welcome your feedback and samples of tension in your writing.

Quick! Turn the Page!

Quick! Turn the Page!

“Amanda stepped off the elevator on the lower level of the parking garage.  At ten o’clock on a Saturday night, the level was empty except for her car . . . and one other she didn’t recognize.  A sound of dripping water and the soft scurrying of animal feet – rats? – made her throat close. 

She swiveled her head in search of anything or anyone nearby then took a tentative step toward her car.  Then another step and faster, faster, until she was almost at a sprint.  Her high heels clicked on the concrete floor and echoed in the cavernous space.  Finally, she reached her car.  Damn, why didn’t she have her keys ready? 

Amanda fumbled through her bag, her heart now ratcheted up, pumping blood through her ears.  All she could hear was the furious whooshing sound of her own fear.

There, her keys, at the bottom, now in her hand.  She clicked the fob and the latches opened.  She reached for the handle, but before her fingers closed around it, she detected a breathy squeak of rubber soled shoes behind her.  She dropped her bag, swung around with a gasp, hands clenched into fists, ready to defend herself and  . . .”

So, what do you think?  Tension?  I always love the late-at-night parking garage scene.  Scares the heck out of me, even now.

What is tension, really, and why is it so important in writing? Even if you’re not writing a mystery.  Even if you’re writing non-fiction.

The noun tension has its Latin roots in “tendere,” which means to stretch, and tension occurs when something is stretched either physically or emotionally to its limits.  Strained relations between countries can cause political tensions to rise.  Tension can be added to a rubber band by stretching it to its limits.  By the way, you can release nervous tension by shooting that rubber band at the local bully.

Tension is the means to get your reader to turn the page, particularly if it’s used at the end of a chapter as a cliffhanger.  People, for the most part, don’t like to leave things unresolved.  They want to find the solution, even if it’s an unsatisfactory one (that’s another story.)

While you cannot (or should not) distort facts when writing non-fiction, tension around real events can ramp up the readers’ pulse just as thrillers can.  Take “The Monuments Men,” for instance.  How tense can a situation be when you have a group of men and women trying to save the art and monuments of a Europe at war?  When, finally the fighting ends, and they discover, in a dark, damp mine in Austria, a cache of hidden loot that would make King Midas gasp?  When, they manage to “derail” an art train bound for Germany with stolen paintings of Masters like Leonardo.

Now that’s tension.  That’s real life.  Whew.

I welcome your feedback and samples of tension in your writing.