Ways to end a chapter.

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Ways to end a chapter.

Post by NaClshaker on Wed Jun 17, 2009 5:48 pm

I was just thinking about how I end chapters and wondering about “rules” or conventions for those writing decisions. I didn't find much advice on ending styles on the internet so here are my own musings:

First, what IS a chapter? It is a cohesive length of storytelling that embodies movement toward the book’s main plot. This can take the form of character building, sub-plot development, establishment of setting and/or tone -- or all of the aforementioned --, but no matter what form it takes, each chapter must advance the plot while providing writing-islands where readers can find balance in the story. Each chapter must motivate the reader to turn pages. Chapters may be of any length as long as they meet the previously mentioned objectives.

So, you’ve built a chapter that includes character development, introduction of conflict, rise in pace and/or established setting. Now, how should you end this chapter? Here are my own “formats” -- take your pick!

1. Climax of a plot element. Benefit: reader satisfaction. This ending concludes a sub-plot conflict while leaving the greater plot intact. It gives the reader a sense of completion while leading deeper into the main plot of the story.

2. Unresolved Cliffhanger. Benefit: reader stimulation. An unresolved cliffhanger is a sure fire way to get pages turning. There is an art to it. My favorite is "sequential cliffhangers". One chapter ends at a crescendo of tension that resolves in the beginning of the next chapter. Why carry over into two chapters? Sometimes the climax of one subplot can plunge a reader deeper into a subsequent crisis in the next chapter. It may be desirable to create two distinct, yet closely related chapters, giving the reader that brief moment between chapters before they discover an even higher level of tension in a subsequent plot element.

3. Chronological completion. Benefit: movement toward plot and change of pace. Generally, a chronological completion would mark some natural, but minimally tense end of a timeframe or scene. Depending on the writing, a writer may intentionally slow the story’s pace or it may be used to add more of a literary quality to character or scene development.

4. Phased build-up of tension. This ending is similar to the chronological completion, but it is part of an ongoing rise in tension carrying across several chapters before reaching a crescendo. For this to work, there must be an escalating perception of rising tension across all the chapters.

5. Suggestive close. Benefit: create curiosity in readers. This type of close uses suggestion as a tool for capturing reader interest. It employs sub-plot action or character development that creates more questions than answers. Such chapter endings are particularly effective when the next chapter will be from a different POV. Readers do not forget the unanswered questions as they move through the subsequent chapter and they are pleased when the issues become clear through some unexpected source.

These are just some of my thoughts on the types of endings I employ in my writing. Each manuscript will usually have all of these formats included at one time or another.
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Re: Ways to end a chapter.

Post by ebyss on Wed Jun 17, 2009 7:37 pm

Huh? Learn something new everyday. All of this science to it and all I did was end my chapters then my book.

LOL!!!

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Re: Ways to end a chapter.

Post by Lady Goodman on Wed Jun 17, 2009 10:08 pm

1. Climax of a plot element. Benefit: reader
satisfaction. This ending concludes a sub-plot conflict while leaving
the greater plot intact. It gives the reader a sense of completion
while leading deeper into the main plot of the story.

This rule is the one I've seen most implemented in books. A lot of writers follow this under a different name - "10 minute rule". I've read a lot of non-fiction books about writing that like to tell readers that a chapter should be approximately 2500 words, and end with a sense of finality. This way, people on airplanes, taking the bus or siting through their lunch break can read a part of your book in a set time frame, and feel complete.

I'm not correcting anything you said by any means, just passing along my own little readings. :)
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Re: Ways to end a chapter.

Post by Sam W on Thu Jun 18, 2009 3:49 am

I would not put any stock in books that tell a reader how long or how many words a chapter should be, LG. That's something that varies depending on your style of writing, on what you use chapters for, and how you want to leave your chapter ends. For instance, James Patterson's chapters are ridiculously short. One and two pages of an ordinary-sized book, in fact. Tom Clancy's, on the other hand, are long and drawn out. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to how long a chapter should be.

My chapters are chronological. They take place within a time-frame, much like the show 24. They usually end with number two on Dean's list. As much as finality gives a reader a sense of satisfaction, cliffhangers make them want to read on. So, they'll squeeze that extra five minutes out of their lunch break to read on and find out what happened. It's a pity for them that the next chapter break will also contain a cliffhanger!

But a very informative list, Dean. Thanks for taking the time to post.

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Re: Ways to end a chapter.

Post by Lady Goodman on Thu Jun 18, 2009 12:23 pm

Sam W wrote:I would not put any stock in books that tell a reader how long or how many words a chapter should be, LG.

No, I don't follow the rule by any means, a lot of my chapters end either with scene changes or with a cliffhanger that does the exact opposite of giving someone an air of finality. I don't want my readers to be satisfied with a sense of completion until they read the book in it's entirety. rolleyes
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Re: Ways to end a chapter.

Post by NaClshaker on Thu Jun 18, 2009 3:00 pm

The purpose of this list is to show different ways to "end" a chapter and to evoke very specific feelings in readers. I plan my stories to ebb and flow through carefully planned ending structure.

For example, I am currently working on several manuscripts, one of which is called Jihad: Breath of God. In 1992, (real history) the Director of Viral Weapon Research in Moscow is ordered by his government to turn over all the lab's vials of live small pox virus to the State Research Institute of Virology and Biotechnology in Novosibirsk. Only two sources of live smallpox virus would exist under multinational agreement through the World Health Organization; one in Russia and the other in the U.S. at the CDC in Atlanta. The story is set about three years from now...2012.

In this story, all but one Russian scientist complies with the order. Dr. Rudenko believes his studies of Variola Major (smallpox) must not be ended as the virus probably still exists somewhere in the Earth's biosphere and could resume its deadly march through humanity at any time. He smuggles half a dozen vials of live virus out of his work while turning in hundreds more as ordered.

The first chapter of the story follows Dr. Rudenko and a middle-eastern secret agent as they journey through Russia, across the Caspian Sea to Mary, Turkmenistan. In the hotel room, he meets officials of the Pakistan government to sell those vials. His only daughter desperately needs heart surgery that the Russian government has postponed several times. He intends to use the money to leave Russia and get his daughter the care she needs in the United States. Throughout his journey he struggles with the ethics of his actions.

As far as the Pakistan officials, their country has a long history of tension with India and they need a weapon threat that transcends their nuclear arsenal. A bio-weapon of smallpox will provide Pakistan with the advantage in the arms race they feel they need.

Dr. Rudenko verifies that a deposit of three million US dollars has been credited to his secret Swiss bank account. He produces the vials from a false bottom in his luggage. On his clandestine journey back to his home in Russia, he is killed by a deckhand on the fishing boat smuggling him back across the Caspian Sea. His middle-eastern agent turns out to be a double agent, working for both Pakistan and rogue elements in Afghanistan. The Pakistani officials in possession of the vials are gunned down on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border by an Al Qaeda unit. Now, Osama Bin Laden has control of the world's most deadly virus. He intends to use it.

This is the first chapter. The ending was critical as an introduction to the plot. Dr. Rudenko was killed, betrayed by the double agent. The Pakistani officials were killed to prevent any word of this leaking into world intelligence community. Al Qaeda has a weapon of mass destruction with which to stun the world. The ending provides a blend of two ending styles: primary - conclusion of a plot element with Dr. Rudenko's death, secondary - phased build up of tension as the reader wonders how will Al Qaeda use the vials.

My next chapter introduces the MCs, Kati and Jake. Kati is a young research scientist working in the CDC. She had recently written a paper on the possibility of Variola Major resurfacing in bodies in Siberia that are being exposed as global warming melts back the permafrost. Her fiancé, Jake, was medically retired from special forces due to wounds he suffered in the raid on Mogadishu, Somalia. He now runs a company that places onboard security teams on cargo ships crossing waters off the coast of Somalia. They repel pirates, using means that violate international law but are completely effective. This chapter builds slowly with lots of character development and suggests the MC's roles in the upcoming virus attacks. It uses the Suggestive Close format, giving the reader a hint of how these characters might become involved in the Al Qaeda activity. It also enhances the nature of the threat as she argues with her boss about the relevance of the thawing permafrost and historic documentation of a smallpox epidemic among the native population living in Siberia half a century ago. She argues that thawing corpses will release live virus into the populations nearby. Her boss dismisses her theory as living in a fantasy world and orders her to drop the matter.

Chapter three ends with an Unresolved Cliffhanger to raise tension.

Chapter four resolves the hanging threat from chapter three, but in so doing, reveals a far great threat (which ends in the completion of a sub-plot element.)

Chapter five, six and seven are a sequence of Phased Build-up endings that begin to raise the level of concern in governments of the world as they start to get whiff of the rising threat.

Chapter eight is chronological tension, exclusively about penetration of Al Qaeda operatives into the US, Great Britain, France, Australia, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Shanghai, New Delhi and three cities in Israel. The ending is nothing more than some of these terrorists achieving their appointed positions and waiting for instructions. While it is not terribly thrilling by itself, the reader understands the reason for these placements, all in centers of population, so the tension builds as the threat grows.

I can't reveal any more about the story at this time. I'm trying to have it completed for release in the fall. The point of this post is that I am intentionally constructing this story to be a roller coaster ride with the high and low points enhanced by ending styles.


Last edited by NaClshaker on Thu Jun 18, 2009 4:53 pm; edited 3 times in total (Reason for editing : corrected typo)
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Re: Ways to end a chapter.

Post by Sam W on Thu Jun 18, 2009 3:03 pm

That sounds like a hell of a story, Dean! Though, should it not be "Breath of God"? When it comes out, tell me where I can buy it!

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Re: Ways to end a chapter.

Post by NaClshaker on Thu Jun 18, 2009 3:05 pm

Sorry for the typo...fat fingers...you're right. I'll correct it. Besides, this is just the working title.
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Re: Ways to end a chapter.

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