Does Every Chapter Need to Finish on a Cliffhanger?

Hello again, and welcome to the latest Write for a Reason writing tip, on how to end chapters in the best way possible.

A writer for a reason recently asked me this excellent question:

Does every chapter need to finish on a cliffhanger?

Although my answer was a tentative, well, you do need to end on a note of tension, I knew there was more to it than that, so after some careful reflection, here are some thoughts.

1. Do not answer all your readers’ questions at the end of every chapter – make sure you give them some new issues to think about, so they need to read on. Chapters can be neat ‘folders’ for a piece of action, but one should lead on to the next. You need to build intrigue at the end of each one, to entice your readers on to the next.

2. A hook of some sort is therefore needed. This can be:

  • A moment of tension/drama
  • A moment of high emotion
  • Some new information coming to light
  • Introduction of a new character
  • A new ‘happening’
  • A question arising
  • Anything else relevant that will hook your reader in!

3. Ring the changes in style and degree – let some hooks be stronger than others. Don’t become guessable!

4. Be sensitive to your readers. If your book is obviously deliciously horrible, and your readers revel in all that is gross and scary, feel free to make your hooks as horrid as you like. But if your book is for younger/more sensitive readers, take care not to send your readers to bed with scary thoughts that might stop them sleeping.

Here’s a clip (unedited) from the end of a chapter of a story I’m currently working on. (N.B. Lance lives in an apartment block, and Noah is staying in the room above):

The following morning, Lance woke up late. He had tossed and turned for ages before dropping off to sleep the night before, and had slept badly. Thoughts and dreams had got mixed up, and were still whirling round his head when he began to stir. He could hear the usual morning noises – his mum clattering in the kitchen, and the sound of a praise song on the radio, but then his ears tuned in to another noise. Suddenly realising what it was, Lance threw off the duvet and grabbed his ruler from his desk – Noah was tapping on his ceiling! He started to tap back, then heard another unusual noise – this time, outside his bedroom window. He ran over, pulled the curtains back and stared in astonishment. A bright blue water bottle, tied to a string, was hanging outside!”

I could have finished the chapter after the previous paragraph, when Lance went to bed the night before. However, I added this bit from the next morning, so I could open a new story loop, and a new chapter. I’m hoping that readers will want to keep on reading. 🙂

Right, bless you all – I hope, as always, you found this tip helpful. If you did, would you share it in a writing group you belong to? This is the link.

Thanks so much!


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