Chapter Endings

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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
There are so many aspects of writing to consider, that it’s hard to think about them all while writing. That’s what editing is for.

We’ve discussed chapters a few times, such as:

But, last night reading in bed, I was brought up short by how C. J. Box ended his chapters. Over the years, I’ve read about a dozen of his Joe Pickett series. His game warden usually gets drawn into investigating crimes that are more complicated than they first appear. His home life mimics that of the author: married with three daughters. As I’m finding, writing my Cornish Detective series, it’s crucial to give the protagonist a personal life, otherwise, he’ll come across as robotic and unfeeling. Also, surveys show that most crime readers are mature females, so it’s wise to include emotions to do with family, friends and partners.

I’ve gotten into a habit of how to end chapters. I don’t know if it’s something I noticed from my reading thousands of crime novels, or whether I saw it as a piece of writing advice, but I tend to have a final sentence that poses a question or which indicates my main character’s mindset. My chapter endings look backwards to what’s happened and forward to possibilities. Thus, from the first Cornish Detective story, Who Kills A Nudist?, (which I’m getting a sore throat narrating), my first four chapters end:

* She watched him through her lens for a few more moments. He was so still, perhaps asleep. Then a gull landed and walked over to his face, pecking at his eyes. She grabbed her phone and dialled 999.

* He needed to question the witness who'd found the body, an American lady waiting with Mary in her car. Calling a constable over to stand watch on the tent, Neil gave the vic one last look. Who kills a nudist?

* Concentrate Neil, there might be a murder to solve. He'd learn more from CC's examination of the corpse. Dying on a beach, powerless against the mighty sea felt primitive. Nature reduced us to fragile specks.

* Looking back at the blank staring windows of an empty house, Neil experienced a moment of sorrow. Their victim ought to be at home, repairing the bikes he donated to others, not stretched out cold on a mortuary slab.

In C. J. Box’s Stone Cold, he sometimes just ends a chapter, as in these examples, including in mid-conversation:

* He squinted and rubbed his chin.

* “Just get done and hurry home”, she said. “I’m worried what I might learn from Mrs Young, and you may need to get to Laramie in a hurry.”

* “You gonna tell me what the problem is?”

No,” he said, turning away.

* Sheridan reached over and pressed PLAY on the Pandora window. Chris LeDoux again, with “Hooked on an 8 Second Ride.”

That’s Mr Templeton out checking his final cutting of the year,” Latta said. Joe noted the tone of admiration in his voice.

It’s made me wonder if I’ve been overthinking things (yet again):rolleyes:. I certainly don’t agonise about how to end a chapter, but I do like to leave off making my readers wonder what’s going to happen next. Sometimes, the reader knows more than my Cornish Detective, which gives them a feeling of superiority, wondering if he can work things out. It’s the hook that drags them back to read more.

How do you end chapters?

It depends on the purpose of 'chapter' rather than scene. I write in scenes, and there may be more than one scene in a chapter, but I don't plan the ending of chapters except that it will also be the end of a scene.
The end of scenes is more defined for me. It must be something that causes a new tactic or strategy for the character. Sometimes a shocker, sometimes a sense of triumph, sometimes a deep funk.
Examples from one of my stories:
He needed to get back inside his body, to pick it up, run, run, and keep running.
She’d fallen into the family madness and would die where their ashes were scattered.
Whatever controlled Kano’s body was ravenous beyond greed.
A good sign. Dead men didn’t whinge, certainly not as much as this one.
The core of her body was a cold lump of fear.
The cliff was close, was it close enough?

Keep the reader reading, make sure the need to know more is hooked onto the last line. But don't leave them hanging ...
That's advice I've taken into my stories and specifically how to bring things to a 'moment' at the end of scenes.
I try not to end every chapter on a cliffhanger or an obvious hook, but I do like to make the last sentence significant in some way. Looking back over my recent work, I often use it to let the reader know where the character's head is at, even if they don't know.
After reading Story Genius (just feel the style she recommends resonates for me ATM), I end with a decision about where to go next (which can be told in a variety of ways). Kron's recommendation is "And so?" which leads into the next chapter. Hey, as long as readers are curious or compelled enough to turn the page, anything goes :)
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