Trying to figure out how to end a chapter or scene for that story or novel you’ve been working on? Or maybe you’re looking to tune up the pacing of your stories, novels, and books? The way you finish your scenes and chapters can really influence —and fix— the pacing of your stories and novels. Scene endings are a great way to give impact to the most important moments of your story. And of course, they’ll keep your readers turning the pages of your book!
These methods are from my personal list of 5 ways to end a scene which I refer to ALL the time when I’m writing my own work. So let me know if you’re interested in the other five! Oh, and don’t miss the writing challenge at the bottom of this blog post, which helps you put these tips into practice, and up your writing craft!
1. Finish your chapter with a disaster!
Because nothing says “impactful” like ending a scene with a catastrophe! Here’s a great example:
“The blade slips into my side, my blood spilling onto the sheets, taking my life with it”
—From The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
In this example, the main character LITERALLY dies! It’s a really impactful way to end a chapter and makes the reader want to instantly turn the page to find out what happens next. Disasters are a great way to instantly up the drama of your story, and ending a chapter with them can really highlight the tension. Finishing a chapter with a disaster is a great choice if you feel there isn’t enough conflict in your story, or the pacing is too slow. If you have disasters but want to give them more impact, you can shift them to the end of the chapter to make them more intense. This will highlight them in the mind of your reader. And it’ll make them feel “bigger” in your story.
Of course, you can’t kill off a main character in every chapter ending (unless, you know, you’re G.R.R. Martin 😉 ). So what kind of disasters can you use? Your disasters might be less intense, like an important object lost or broken, being thrown in jail, a building collapsing, or an injury. Whatever the setback, your readers will want to know how your main character reacts. What will they do next? How will they overcome this obstacle? And these questions are going to make them want to turn the page and keep reading.
A tip for dealing with disaster endings!
If you’ve used a disaster, you might think the next moment that should be shown is the solution. But showing the reaction of the protagonists is actually more important! This shows the personal impact of the disaster, which is great for two reasons. It’s a great way to have your audience connect with your main character. But it’s also a great way to show a character moment —to establish an emotional baseline or show growth and change. Take a beat to show the protagonist’s reaction, and you’ll get a double dose of awesome from your disaster!
Rather watch a video than read a blog? Check out the video version of this article here for the basics, then read on for the details!
2. Use a cliff-hanger to end a chapter!
Of course, it’s not just a disaster that makes your reader want to turn the page —sometimes a Cliffhanger ending can be just as effective! Take this example:
“One minute to go and he’d be eleven. Thirty seconds…twenty…ten…nine – maybe he’d wake Dudley up, just to annoy him – three…two…one…
The whole shack shivered and Harry sat bolt upright, staring at the door. Someone was outside, knocking to come in.”
—From Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
Who’s behind that door? And what the hell is about to happen?! That’s what the reader is thinking. The first few chapters of this book become increasingly intense as Hogwarts attempts to contact Harry until finally, someone arrives in person. Using the end of a scene to draw out the question is a great way to heighten the suspense of this moment, which makes it feel even more exciting. It increases the impact of the character introduction and makes it seem even more momentous.
In the Disaster ending, we know what’s happened, and we look forward to the reaction. But Cliffhanger scene endings leave a question hanging in the air at the end of the chapter. We —the reader— don’t know exactly what will happen, but we get the sense that it’s going to be terribly important. Stopping the chapter just before the new thing arrives is a great way to add extra emphasis to a big reveal, a new character, or another moment you want to feel more exciting.
How to deal with cliffhanger endings
The tip with this one is to make sure that, the next time we see this POV character, you deliver on the Cliffhanger. If you don’t, you risk diffusing your own tension! That essentially nerfs the cliffhanger, making it less effective. One of the old fashioned tropes, from early movies, was that cliffhanger endings would result in solutions that didn’t make sense. They’d set up the question “how will our heroes get out of this one”, which is great. But the punchline would either be a non-sequitur —something that didn’t really follow— or an “asspull”, a cheat of some kind. Either of these solutions can cause problems for readers, so make sure when you’re using a cliffhanger, you’ve already considered how the protagonists can deal with it.
3. Reveal a crucial piece of information
Another way to make an impact with scene or chapter endings is to use a revelation —to introduce new information to your readers which will make them gasp.
“You have four hosts after Edward Dance, including what’s left of the days of the Butler and Donald Davis. Be cautious, Mr Bishop, the footman isn’t going to rest until they’re all dead, and I’m not sure you can afford to lose a single one of them.”
With that he closes the door.
—From The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
In this example, this is the moment the main character learns how much time he has left to solve the main conflict of the novel. The reveal lets us know about the ticking clock of time pressure —if he doesn’t solve the problem quickly enough, he’ll fail.
How to deal with “the reveal” chapter ending
For “the Reveal” to work well at the end of a chapter, the crucial thing is that the information MUST be important. Someone’s dinner order probably won’t cut it… (Unless it reveals something about their secret identity —an imposter Superman ordering Kryptonite Coleslaw, for example). But if it’s not something salient, then the audience won’t care much. Even more, if the audience doesn’t know WHY it’s important, it won’t have much of an impact. If we suddenly discover that the sidekick has been wearing a wig – and we don’t know why that’s significant —then the reveal falls flat. If it’s foreshadowed that all aliens wear wigs to hide their stripey heads, then suddenly the reader feels trepidation, shock, fear —all those lovely emotions we’re trying to evoke! Ideally, if you want this to be a big moment, it should be a piece of information that’s been foreshadowed earlier in the story or novel. Otherwise, it’ll fall flat and the end of your chapter won’t have the impact you’d hoped.
Crucial information, like the example above, is very plot and character-specific. You might choose an “I am your father” character moment or the revelation of where the evil enemy will attack next. If you want to use a reveal, but don’t have any cool secrets in your story yet, then work backwards. Think about something which would make a great reveal, and then seed it backwards as a secret throughout your story!
Using World Anvil for writing
If you’re writing a novel or series, make sure you check out World Anvil’s worldbuilding and series bible features! My husband and I lovingly designed World Anvil so that writers and worldbuilders can always organize and find their setting and character notes! It’s full of worldbuilding and character templates to get you inspired to write and worldbuild, and you can make timelines, family trees and turn your maps interactive with it too!
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4. End a chapter with a quippy internal monologue
All the ways to end a scene I’ve listed so far have been things happening. And there’s nothing wrong with ending a scene or chapter like that —with a big moment. But it doesn’t always fit, and it can feel repetitive if every scene ends with a big action or reveal. So bring on, the quippy internal monologue:
Goddam money. It always ends up making you blue as hell.
—From Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
(Big recommendation for Catcher in the Rye, if you haven’t read it. Seriously — it’s not long, and it’s an amazing study in character voice.)
This internal monologue fragment is a great way to end reaction scenes —when something big just happened, and your character has been trying to pivot and react to what’s going on. Think of it as an emotional recap, and a great excuse to hop into the private thoughts of your character, helping your audience connect to them. Whilst reveal, cliffhanger, and disaster scenes all speed things up, this is a great way to slow things down, and let your reader breathe a bit. And that’s super important. Nothing is going to get your reader tired and bored more quickly than endless action scenes with characters they don’t care about. This is a good way to flip things around and bring some character spice into the mix.
How to handle the internal monologue scene ending
The trick here, with this kind of ending, is usually for your point of view character to reflect on what’s just happened, or what’s happening. It’s an emotional beat, rather than an action beat. As an author, you can tune into their emotional state, and have them say something that’s totally in character voice. Whether they’re ironic, sarcastic, dadaistic, or ridiculously optimistic, this is the moment that you can capture their reaction in a pithy and, hopefully witty, way. It’s a gift in terms of showing your character in a new way and getting in their head. And it’ll endear them to your readers no end, especially if you choose a sentiment that most can connect with, like Salinger’s example above!
5. Use a symbolic image to sum it up!
Sometimes you don’t want to end a scene inside a character’s head, especially if you’ve spent a lot of time there recently. If you’ve dramatically set the scene to enhance the mood of what’s happening, you can use that to leave a strong impression of mood in your reader’s mind.
The wind seemed suddenly colder. Rupert stared up at the new moon; already it seemed tinged with blue, like the first hint of leprosy.
—From Blue Moon Rising by Simon R. Green
This is a moment to put your symbolism sensors into overdrive. You can use images like slamming doors, sunrises or sunsets, smashed glass, hunted birds, or storms to convey the mood of the scene and the emotions your point of view characters are going through.
How to handle symbolic image chapter endings
The trick of these descriptions is to show what your POV characters are identifying with, and how they are interpreting the scene. The above is a great example of this. Staring at the moon is traditionally a romantic thing, but the use of the word “leprosy”, and the cold wind, leaves us in no doubt that things are sinister and wrong here. The moon doesn’t literally have leprosy, but that’s how it appears to Rupert. This gives us a great sense of time and place, whilst also linking back to the emotion and action.
If your novel has been running at break-neck speed, this is also a great way to slow things down and reflect on what’s happened so far, as well as set the tone for upcoming events. It’s also a nice place to work in some of your worldbuilding and setting!
For more Symbolic ideas, check out our video on Immersive Worldbuilding – or scroll down for the writing exercise to help you end your scenes & chapters better!
Time for a writing challenge: how to end a chapter or scene!
Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is:
This isn’t designed to be canon for your final manuscript —it’s an exploration of how you can use scene endings to tweak the pacing and feel of a moment in your story.
This might involve cutting your scene shorter and ending earlier than you expected, or you might need to add an extra section to your scene for a different ending.
Click here to submit the prompt, and make sure you check out other people’s entries too! There’s always someone doing something awesome over on World Anvil!
What’s your favorite way to end a chapter, or your pet hate for scene and chapter endings? Let me know in the comments!