Writers' Treasure Fiction Writing The art of finishing a chapter

The art of finishing a chapter

This is a guest article by Jessica Millis. If you want to write a guest article of your own be sure to read the guest article guidelines.

The end of the chapter. A mystery that most writers who are still working towards getting their first publication have yet to solve. Having read through many poor, good, great and superb chapter endings over your years of reading, you most likely have already experienced techniques that are of the great variety and those which are of the poor.

It’s quite hard to deny those urges to continue reading more of a great book although you know it’s quite late, your spouse doesn’t want the light on much longer and you have to get up for work early in the morning! Let’s see if you recognize a technique that captivated you in this very way and help you employ them to captivate readers of your own.

There are earmarks that every writer should be aware of, a roadmap of sorts, to help you understand when the use of a chapter break should occur in your piece. Think about the dynamic between the reader and writer as you go down the list:

  • The following chapter will change the scene or setting
  • The following chapter will change the period in which the current phase of the story takes place (time shift)
  • The following chapter changes the focus on the characters or conflict
  • The following chapter changes the story line
  • The following chapter changes the point of view

Do you see the silver lining? In all of these instances, the writer, YOU, know what is going to come next whereas the reader is left peeking ahead until their next planned reading time. They’re forced to either ponder it until they return back to your book or continue reading to find out! This is exactly what you want.

Apply Ernest Hemingway’s iceberg theory, which is summarized in his words: “If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water.” The tip of the iceberg, what is apparent to your reader while they read through it, is just a small percentage of what’s under water. The majority of the iceberg that’s submerged under the water symbolizes your knowledge and authority on the remainder of the story.

Now, the techniques! Remember, keep the end goal in mind. These techniques are to increase the conversion rate, per say, of readers who have picked up your book and started to read your story to those who have finished reading it in its entirety.

  • Change of time or era – starting with the most self-explanatory of the techniques is the change of time or era. Each chapter, which takes place in a moment in time and space within your story, should be focusing on a key, necessary plot development or event that progresses fluidly into the next chapter.
  • Change of scene, setting, or point of view (POV) – You can use minor and relevant scene changes within a chapter, but all major transitions of a scene or of POV should be earmarked with the end of a chapter.

Picture your plot as a slideshow. Each slide is a chapter. When you’ve finished describing the first slide or scene within the chapter you transition via foreshadowing or the cliffhanger into the next chapter. Imagine the space between one slide and the next is your foreshadowing/cliffhanger inside the context of your plot that sets up the next scene or character POV.

  • Shifting storylinesPlot intricacies are required for the success of any great book. When the storyline shifts – end the chapter. Make sure the next chapter follows a common thread from the previous one. Progress the reader along in a logical fashion, which shouldn’t be overtly apparent to them in the moment but masterly crafted by you, the author.
  • Taking stock – Have your character reflect on a conflict or predict what may come of a conflict or summarize the actions of an event in an organic, true to that characters worldview, manner. This technique is one of the more reader understood techniques to break a chapter. Your reader recognizes that the character is running over the possibilities of what may come while touching on what just occurred in this scene/chapter.

There is much more that builds the effectiveness of a great story but these are the most effective ways to end chapters. All of these help to reorient the reader, re-energize them for what’s to come and re-direct their focus on the most important issues. Pending on your foreshadowing of the previous chapter, the new one may not need to have a lot of identifying marks.

The same is true in reverse, if the end of the chapter is vague or very character specific in the new chapter you want to quickly identify by showing, not telling, the reader the new place, time, character POV, event and the mood or tone of this new scene.

Study foreshadowing and cliffhangers in more detail if you need more information on how to get the most out of those writing techniques.

This article is by Jessica Millis. Jessica is an experienced writer, editor and copywriter. She teaches writing at James Madison University works as a writing specialist at the EssayMama blog.

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