How to End a Chapter and Get Readers Hooked on Your Book

Abi Wurdeman
November 28, 2022

When you’re asking how to end a chapter, you’re really asking, “How can I make it impossible for a reader to put my book down?”

Because that’s the dream, isn’t it? Every reader wants to find a book that worms its way into their very souls… one that consumes them and possesses them. 

Why we crave this kind of angst and disruption, I’m not sure. But as readers, we do.

And so, as writers, we dream about writing the book that can fulfill that bizarre need.

Much of our ability to do this depends on how well we handle big things like character development and conflict. But chapters have their own sneaky role to play.

You know that “one more chapter” game you find yourself playing when you read a really good book?

It works because the author knows how to end a chapter. They know how to leave you with unresolved emotions and big questions that demand immediate answers.

You’re about to learn how to do these things, too. I’ll walk you through the basics of creating a powerful chapter ending. I’ll also share sixteen effective ways to end a chapter.

That’s sixteen different ways to manipulate your readers' emotions! If that’s not power, I don’t know what is.

So let’s get into it.  

What Exactly Are We Trying to Do Here?

A person with short hair and glasses sits on a green couch holding a book and staring off into the distance.
If your reader needs a minute to process what just happened in the last chapter, you've done your job.

Let’s talk about why you need to learn how to end a chapter in the first place.

When you write a chapter ending, you have two goals:

  1. Create a sense of completion
  2. Build tension or raise new questions

Now, when I say a chapter ending needs to create a sense of completion, I don’t necessarily mean a resolution. I only mean you want your reader to feel like it makes sense that the chapter is ending now.

You usually do this by showing that something has changed. 

The protagonist has made a discovery that will change the way they approach their conflict. Or they’ve just been handed a fresh new disaster. Or they got exactly what they wanted and everything is better than it was at the beginning of the chapter. (Or so they think.)

The second goal of ending a chapter is to give your reader a reason to keep reading. You can do this by building tension (Is that a bomb?) or raising new questions (Who would be at the door at this hour?).

Let’s look at some great tools for doing exactly that.

Teasers vs. Cliffhangers vs. Escalations

A person bites nervously on a pencil as they read a computer screen.

When most people think about how to end a chapter, they think of cliffhangers.

Now, I love a good cliffhanger. I love the shock of seeing something wild go down on the page when I am only one paragraph from the end of the chapter. I love feeling like a force beyond my control is turning the page to see what happens next.

But the problem with cliffhangers is that a lot of new writers believe them to be the best way to end a chapter. They end up piling up cliffhangers, and as a result:

  1. Readers become numb to the suspense
  2. Those moments of tension feel forced

The fact is, there’s more than one way to hold your reader’s rapt attention. Here are the three big ones. 

Cliffhanger

This is when the chapter stops during a moment of suspense. A character has just tumbled into shark-invested waters or been told, “That woman isn’t your mother” or is actually hanging off a cliff. 

Your reader starts the next chapter to find out what’s going to happen next in this one specific moment.

Teaser

This is a glimpse of things to come. Maybe it’s a scene in which the villain indicates that they plan to make the protagonist’s birthday shindig a real surprise party (wink, wink).

Or maybe you toss in one of those lines like, “Little did they know, everything was about to change.” But not that. Don’t write that. You can do better.

Your reader starts the next chapter to reach the big moment you’re teasing.

Escalation

This is when you intensify some aspect of your story. 

The love interests finally kiss. The trusted sidekick reveals themselves as a mole. The protagonist’s mission to win Jeopardy! suddenly becomes a life-or-death situation.

Maybe you’re raising the stakes, complicating the conflict, piling on hope, or forcing your characters to grow. You’ve got options.

However you escalate, your reader starts the next chapter because you’ve gotten them even more invested in the story.

Now, there are endless ways to put these common chapter-ending devices to work in your novel. We’ll cover sixteen of them in a moment.

But first, let’s talk about one more important consideration for how to end a chapter.

Consider Your Genre

Little red flowers scattered on an open book.

Whatever genre you’ve chosen to write, you need to read a lot of it. As you read it, note how successful authors in your genre end their chapters. This will help you understand what keeps your readers reading.

If you write thrillers, you’ll likely find a lot of chapter endings that interrupt or escalate action. The villain is closing in, the protagonist has thirty seconds to disarm the bomb, the bomb just exploded and the protagonist lost consciousness… that kind of thing.

Romance chapters tend to end with new stages of relationship or character development. The protagonist resolves not to let the foxy chef distract them from their career goals or a conversation between coworkers ends with an unexpected flirtation.

If you’re writing a mystery, you might use chapter endings to drop a new clue, suggest a new suspect, or reveal another crime. 

Get to know what your genre does so you can hold your readers in their kind of suspense.

So that’s the broad overview of how to end a chapter. Now let’s look at some effective chapter endings you can try in your next novel.

16 Ways to End a Chapter

Hands type on an old-fashioned typewriter on a dimly-lit desk.

Here are sixteen classic chapter-ending techniques to inspire your own writing.

The Disaster

You probably don’t need much hand-holding with this one.

In a disaster chapter ending, something terrible happens. An explosion, a breakup, a fall off a building… whatever it is, it’s bad.

Your reader turns the page to find out how your characters will cope with the devastation.

The New Obstacle

Like any good author would, you opt for the jerk move and throw yet another obstacle in your character’s path.

The One That Got Away shows up just when your love interests seem to be falling for one another. The door seems to be sealed using a magic spell beyond your protagonist’s powers. New evidence proves the prime suspect didn’t do it and the sleuth is back to square one.

And your reader is eager to find out how your protagonist is going to get around this one.

The Whiff of Change

Maybe a character learns that they’ve just inherited $24 million. Or they receive a shocking diagnosis. Maybe they’ve been offered a job that requires them to move halfway across the world.

Whether it’s a disaster or an opportunity, one thing is certain:

Nothing will ever be the same again.

The Big Decision

You present a character with a major decision, then make your reader keep reading to find out what choice that character makes. You want this to be a decision with the potential for huge consequences.

Maybe there’s an obvious right choice but your reader isn’t sure they can trust your character to pick that option. They read ahead breathlessly, hoping they’re not about to see this character ruin everything.

Or maybe your character faces a full-blown dilemma. There is no clear right or wrong. Whatever your character does, they’re going to let someone or something down.

The Undeniably Terrible Decision

In this chapter ending, the reader gets to see the character’s decision before the close of the chapter.

But it’s a really, really bad decision. Just awful.

Most likely, a character flaw or fear played an ugly role in this one. They got greedy or insecure or vengeful and did something they’ll come to regret. 

Your reader continues with their eyes half-covered, afraid to see what happens next but unable to look away.

The “Oh No No No No!”

Your character realizes they’ve made a fatal mistake that sends your reader spiraling into panic.

They cut the wrong wire. They delivered the message to the wrong person. Or they drank poison over the death of a girl they met four days ago only to learn that she’s just pretend dead.

The “Oh no no no no!” ending is most effective when you present the mistake and get out. You can indicate that your character is horrified, but save their full reaction for the next chapter.

The Big Plan

Someone’s got a big idea, and your reader can’t wait to see it unfold.

If you’re a romance author, this might be a fake dating scheme or a grand gesture. If you’re a fantasy author, maybe it’s the plan to storm the castle or recruit the help of the centaurs.

For mystery authors, it might be as simple as deciding to find out what the bartender witnessed on the night of the murder.

The Big Disappointment

A character’s journey is littered with dashed hopes.

The sleuth’s big lead turns out to be a dead end. The protagonist’s childhood sweetheart turns out to be married.

A disappointing turn of events gives your reader a chance to see what this character is really made of. Will they stick with their goal? Pursue new possibilities? Give up and spend the next week on the couch surrounded by thirteen empty Pringle cans?

Your reader will keep reading to find out.

The Message 

This can be a text, a calling card, a phone call, a person at the door… doesn’t matter. Your reader just has to know that your character has received (or is about to receive) important information.

The trick for how to end a chapter with your character receiving a message to give the reader some context, especially if you plan to withhold the content of the message for now. 

If you show the character gasping and dropping the phone without clarifying right away that their father died, at least mention that the call was from the character’s mother. 

This can also be an effective chapter ending when your reader knows the character has been waiting on information, like an acceptance letter or an autopsy report. 

The Discovery

What’s this? A shocking new clue? A secret crush revealed? The precious family heirloom your protagonist’s sister said had gone missing, right here in that same sister’s dresser drawer?

This chapter ending is great for escalating conflicts and relationships. Just make sure that the discovery doesn’t only exist to shock the reader. It has to actually further the plot.

The Arrival 

You might be picking up on the fact that the secret of how to end a chapter is to create an interesting new beginning. Poetic, I know.

And the arrival ending is the most on-the-nose example of this.

It could be your point-of-view character’s arrival in a new setting or new situation. Or it might be that someone else has just arrived in their world.

No matter who’s standing in the doorway, an arrival always pushes the reader to read ahead.

The Departure

Same deal as the arrival: the departure can belong to anybody.

Maybe your point-of-view character is putting their old life in the rearview mirror. Or maybe they have to let go of someone else who’s choosing to move on.

Departures are as life-altering as arrivals. And odds are, your reader will be eager to see what life becomes for your character in light of this major shift.

The Buzzer 

If you’re not familiar with the term “ticking clock,” it’s that sense of urgency you create by setting a deadline for your protagonist.

Cinderella’s dress turns back into rags at midnight. The kidnapper demands the ransom within 24 hours. Whatever the terms, there are big consequences for your character if they fail to meet their deadline.

You can create a hand-wringing cliffhanger by ending your chapter at the moment the timer runs out. Or when it’s about to run out. 

Both strategies will propel your reader on to the next chapter.

The Connection

A new level of connection blossoms between characters. It could be the spark of a new romance or an orphan character finding the community that makes them feel like they belong.

This type of chapter ending might not seem very “grabby,” but it’s compelling for those who read stories for the relationships. You see a lot of this in genres like romance, literary fiction, and YA.

The Symbol

Ending a chapter with a symbolic image is a sneaky li’l trick for keeping your reader emotionally engaged with the story.

A strong symbolic image can solidify the moment that just happened, like dirt tossed onto a casket at the end of a funeral scene.

It can also tease what lies ahead, like storm clouds rolling in as the lovers share their first kiss.

The Personal Evolution

A big step forward in character development is a great technique for how to end a chapter.

Maybe your character realizes they’ve been allowing their fear of failure to dictate their entire life. Or they finally admit to themselves that they’ve never gotten over their first love. Or they decide that from here on out, they’re just looking out for number one.

Major internal change means interesting external changes are coming. Your reader wants to know what kind of life your character will build with their new outlook.

How to End a Chapter: Explore the Possibilities

These tips and ideas should give you a solid starting point for crafting chapters that keep your readers hooked. 

But I’m certain you’ll also discover new ideas and tactics of your own as you write your novel.

That’s what I love about using Dabble to draft novels. It’s easy to change chapter breaks if you realize that one ending is stronger than another. And the manuscript navigation menu makes it a breeze to skip from chapter ending to chapter ending to make sure all your chapter breaks leave the reader in thrilled suspense.

A screenshot demonstrating how to easily place a chapter ending in a Dabble manuscript.
So easy!

If you don’t already use Dabble, I highly recommend checking it out. You can snag a free fourteen-day trial that gives you full access to all Premium features. You don’t even need to involve your credit card. Just click here and start writing a book your readers can’t put down.

Abi Wurdeman

Abi Wurdeman is the author of Cross-Section of a Human Heart: A Memoir of Early Adulthood, as well as the novella, Holiday Gifts for Insufferable People. She also writes for film and television with her brother and writing partner, Phil Wurdeman. On occasion, Abi pretends to be a poet. One of her poems is (legally) stamped into a sidewalk in Santa Clarita, California. When she’s not writing, Abi is most likely hiking, reading, or texting her mother pictures of her houseplants to ask why they look like that.