Sunday 21 February 2021

Thirteen ways to end a chapter

While it can be tempting to keep on writing with occasional line gaps for changes of scene and time as Terry Pratchett did in his Discworld novels, it’s not really fair to child readers (or adult readers-aloud) not to have regular chapter endings. (In fact even Terry Pratchett's children’s books are divided into chapters!) One of my 'big picture' tasks when editing a first draft is to look at how the endings of each individual chapter are working and see how the chapter endings vary as the story progresses.

The most basic rule of ending a chapter is that it must encourage the reader to carry on reading. The obvious way to do this, of course is with a cliffhanger. But ending every chapter on a cliffhanger is exhausting and monotonous. The trick is to vary between ending the chapter with:

a feeling of disorder This is could be a huge cliffhanger or just enough to signal a coming dilemma or threat.

a feeling of order This will give the reader a feeling of closure, the idea that the plot has forward momentum and things are on their way to being sorted out.

There are all sorts of ways to break that down further, but here is my own list of thirteen ways to end a chapter. Some types of ending are conducive to a feeling of disorder, some to order and some work equally well either way.

1. Obstacle: a barrier to change or forward movement is presented (disorder)

2. Question: a question is posed by a character or the narrator (disorder)

3. Choice: a choice is presented or a decision must be made (disorder)

4. Mistake: a character (or the reader) realises that a mistake has been made (disorder)

5. Disappointment: a plan goes wrong (disorder)

6. Arrival: a visitor or message or movement to a new place brings either disappointment or hope (disorder /order)

7. Departure: someone leaving or movement away from a place brings either disappointment or hope (disorder /order)

8. Revelation: a character or reader learns or understands something (disorder /order)

9. Confession: one character reveals something that will bond or separate characters (disorder /order)

10. Door: an opportunity for change or forward movement is presented  (order)

11. Plan: a plan is formed (order)

12. Hope: things appear to be going in the direction the characters desire (order )

13. Reflection: a quiet moment usually following action sequence; possibly a statement by the character or narrator about the story’s theme (order )

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