Last words

It’s very, very late. You have to get up early in the morning. But the chapter you’re reading ends…

He grinned in delight. “Tell her I need her special talents and particular skills.” Then he snapped the phone shut and looked over at Perenelle Flamel. “It would have been so much easier if they had just given me the Codex. Now the Morrigan is coming. And you know what that means.”

No! you want to scream. I don’t know what that means but it scares me to death! And you turn the page. And keep reading.

That chapter ending was taken from The Alchemyst, by Michael Scott. It’s a perfect example of what writing instructors call “finishing the chapter with a hook.”

Evoking Fear

An ending like Scott’s – one that makes us afraid of whatever comes next – begs you to keep reading.  It usually leaves the protagonist facing some kind of peril or unknown challenge.

Here are a few more examples of chapter endings that do two things at once: 1) make us afraid to read on, and 2) make it impossible to stop reading.

Walking into study hall, my steps falter when I spot Xander and Angus in the back of the room. Cold prickles down my neck. They’re back. Firelight, by Sophie Jordan

“It’s the Kalkara,“ Halt said grimly. “They have a new target and they’re hunting.” –The Ruins of Gorlan (Ranger’s Apprentice), by John Flanagan.

Something caught his eye. A white face at the window of the café. A frightened face, a face that knew something. The Hunter smiled. He had a Sighting. He was back on the Trail.

And later, at the end of another chapter in the same book…

Silhouetted against the lightning, still far away but with its sails flying in the howling wind, the huge Darke ship was cutting through the waves and heading toward the cottage. The Vengeance was coming. –Magyk, by Angie Sage

Turn the page? You better believe it!

Looking forward

Some chapters may end optimistically, often with the protagonist in bed at night, anticipating the next day. The success of such an ending depends on how invested the reader is in the protagonist’s hoped-for outcome.

Hopefully, twenty-four hours from now, my bond with Quince will be a distant memory. Brody will be mine before Monday. – Forgive My Fins, by Tera Lynn Childs

But many more chapters, especially those nearing the climax of the plot, end with a hopeless feeling that has the reader protesting, No, he can’t be dead! or No, there must be a way out!  Either reaction guarantees the page will be turned. No one wants to stop reading while the world is coming apart.

He found himself atop a large hill encircled by stones. In the middle were three dragons—wyverns, he corrected. Remembering Aunt Phil’s words, he jerked his gaze down before he could give offense. Even so, his quick glimpse had shown beasts so vast and terrible looking that he wanted to turn and run all the way back down the hill. Except his legs were shaking so badly, he didn’t think he’d make it. –The Wyverns’ Treasure, by R.L. LaFevers

Stunned, I lay upon the decaying earth, fingers clutching rotting leaves, a cold rain drenching me. As daylight faded I was entombed in a world darker than any night could bring. —Crispin, by Avi

“Only one girl has ever avoided choosing….” Turning, Donia caught Aislinn’s gaze and killed the hope that had crept into her voice. “She died.” –Wicked Lovely, by Melissa Marr

The question

Another type of chapter ending begs the reader to continue by asking important questions – ones neither the protagonist nor the reader can answer easily.

“I stared at him. Did he mean it? Could I save her? But… what would he do with my power? Nothing good. What a choice. What would River want me to do?” Darkness Falls, by Cate Tiernan

The varieties of specific questions are endless, but they all boil down to: What is going to happen next?

Humorous surprise

I like this kind of chapter ending, too. The kind that gives me a chuckle, especially if it’s a dark and dangerous book.  Any kind of humor will do, such as this near the end of a gruesome murder mystery.

“’I want a lawyer,’” said the lawyer. –The Chalk Girl, by Carol O’Connell

But the problem with this kind of ending? It puts me in a perfect mood to set the book down on the nightstand and take a break.

What’s your favorite chapter ending?

About Donna Maloy, Author

Captivating romantic suspense. History, mystery, and sometimes... a little touch of fantasy.
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