Writing a Page Turner: Chapter Endings

Our exploration of conflict and suspense sprinted out of the gate in the first month of 2016. We have great books to read, a study plan, tools for evoking emotion and Moxie Sharpe is having weekly misadventures to put it all into practice. Exciting!

So what’s in store for February? Application.

Writing Moxie’s misadventures is a fun exercise, but, for me, this study is about turning my novel into a page turner. This month, we’ll be diving into aspects of revision where we can apply our new tools for creating conflict and suspense.

I began this focused study based on advice from a friend who said I needed to work on my chapter endings. So let’s start there. Chapter endings are convenient places for readers to put a book down and come back to later, right? Wrong! We don’t want the reader to ever put the book down, so chapter endings are tricky. We want to create a satisfying conclusion to the chapter, but also keep the reader in suspense so they will have to read the next page.

How do we create suspenseful, cliff-hanger chapter endings without being too obvious?

First, take a look at how your favorite authors do it.

I made a simple chart for exploring chapter endings. The left column is the number of the chapter; the next column is for checking if the chapter ends in a cliff-hanger and a quick note of how the cliff-hanger is accomplished followed by a column for the conflict at the end of the chapter and the fourth column is for the chapter’s final emotion and whether it is positive or negative. I have filled it in for Fear the Worst by Linwood Barclay

Chapter Cliff-hanger Conflict Emotion +/-
1. No. Occupational death Sarcastic/Bored
2. Yes. “Something’s happened” Ex-wife and new boyfriend Concern/Guilt
3. Yes. “Is our girl still alive?” Daughter left things in room Hope +
4. Yes. “Your daughter’s car” Found car Surprise +
5. Yes. “It’s blood, isn’t it?” Possible physical death Fear
6. No. Daughter’s bad-girl friend Humor +
7. Yes. “I’m pretty sure your daughter is alive” Is email telling truth? And Kate’s mental health Hope +
8. Yes. Yolanda legit. Daughter on other side of country? Psychological death- it trust Yolanda, more mystery Trust +
9. Yes. Picture of Syd Will picture arrive and be Syd Joy +
10. No. Airplane ride Hope +
11. Yes. Yolanda not answer phone Yolanda not work   at shelter Confusion/Disapp-

ointment

12. Yes. Left stuff in diner (not resolved) Psychological death – thinks sees Syd in every blond girl Frantic
13. Yes. The house had been trashed No luck in Seattle went home Defeat
14. Yes. “I think we found what you were looking for.” Psychological death. Scarf from Seattle pic found in room Betrayal
15. No. Can’t stay at home-crime scene
16. Yes. Ian carrying blonde girl over shoulder like a sack Question of physical death Curiosity/Fear
17. No. Not Syd Relief/Humor +
18. Yes. Found cell phone Conflict w/x’s boyfriend Curious +
19. Yes. A new clue X’s boyfriend’s son Surprise +
20. Yes. Syd might be pregnant Fist fight at car lot Surprise
21. No Evan’s sorry not good enough
22. Yes. Car-napped Threat of physical death Fear
23. Yes. Jumped from car Threat of physical death only temporarily avoided Humor +
24. Yes. A girl’s voice said, “help me” Phone woke him up in middle of night Concern/Fear/Hope
25. No. Daughter’s friend Tired
26. No.
27. No. Drive-by but okay Attempted physical death Relief +
28. Yes. Patty’s missing Police suspicion Dread
29. Yes. Andy from work connect Recent dealings with Andy Surprise
30. No Police suspicion Anger
31. Yes. Sets up going to bar to find Gary Conflict with Andy from work Anger
32. No, but intrigue Human trafficking revelation +
33. Yes. Place where Syd’s pic taken was hotel Saw something shouldn’t have Weird

discovery

+

34. Yes. Dead Kate in house Physical and psychological death -He will be a suspect Discovery
35. Yes. “For being Patty’s father” Psychological death surprise
36. No Two daughters missing revelation
37. No Patty’s dad humor +
38. Yes. The bad guys reveal Imminent death Betrayal
39. Yes. Has a plan Imminent death Hope +
40. No.
41. Yes. Leaving for Stowe Ex’s boyfriend Bob coming along Humor +
42. No Hands over wheel to Bob
43. Yes. Is Patty alive? Syd still missing Surprise
44. Yes. Bob has Syd Patty knew where Syd was whole time Relief +
45. Yes. Woman with gun Imminent death Surprise
46. Conclusion

 

That was a great exercise! I am going to add it to the reading study plan. A quick glance at the table shows that the majority of chapters end in some kind of cliff-hanger. Mr. Barclay uses an array of techniques to keep the reader turning pages past the end of a chapter.

End of chapter techniques:The cover of Fear The Worst by Linwood Barclay

  • Split dialogue
  • Middle of action
  • Surprise
  • Revelation
  • Character has a plan

While filling out the table, I also discovered that when I read a chapter that did not end with a cliff-hanger, I had trouble identifying the emotion and/or the conflict. These are the chapter endings I will look for in my own work and try to increase the conflict and suspense.

Now it’s time to apply this chart to my own work and see where I can improve my chapter endings.

I hope you’re excited for Moxie’s next thrilling, chilling, spine-tingling, action-packed misadventure coming this Sunday. Oh, the suspense!

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2 thoughts on “Writing a Page Turner: Chapter Endings

  1. Your exercise, what an erudite study! The MB Method. I’d love to see you apply this to my work sometime.

    I usually wrap up a scene with surprise or revelation. Go big or go home. But that’s just me.

    Like

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