The Art of Finishing

I hope that I’m the only one who struggles to find the perfect way to end a chapter.  If I’m right then all you lovely people will jump to my rescue and teach me the trick.  It’s not just ending a chapter that makes me cringe,  finding the right way to bring a close to short stories and scenes within chapters is problematic as well.  It’s as if the blasted scene doesn’t want to end.  The best analogy I can think of  is the awkward part of the phone call when one person doesn’t know how to say goodbye and hang up the phone.

So let us explore the elements that help a chapter/scene/short story end on a high note:

(Beware, I’m making this up as I go…)

  1. Concise – the scene ends at a natural finishing point without dribbling on.
  2. Clever –  the last phrase of the chapter has to have some punch.  This could mean that it’s clever,  meaningful, or at least interesting.
  3. Complete – unless you obviously are ending on a cliffhanger, all events should feel finished to the extent needed for the characters to move on.
  4. Compelling – your readers should want to know what happens next.
  5. Cohesive – it should agree with the style and pacing of the rest of the chapter.
  6. Change – be cautious not to overuse certain endings such as cliffhangers, nightfall, and farewells.

Making a list is easy, going out and doing it is hard.

What are your thoughts on bringing scenes to a close?

About Jodi

Jodi L. Milner is a writer, mandala enthusiast, and educator. Her epic fantasy novel, Stonebearer’s Betrayal, was published in November 2018 and rereleased in Jan 2020. She has been published in several anthologies. When not writing, she can be found folding children and feeding the laundry, occasionally in that order.
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22 Responses to The Art of Finishing

  1. Jodi

    I think you have most (if not all) of the elements listed, but you’re right, there is a big difference between “book-learnin'” and “get ‘er done”

    I like to end a chapter with what I call a challenge to the reader. Figure this out. Guess what’s next. I dare you to not turn the page.

    The ways I do it are:
    * end with a question
    * end with an elipses
    * shut down at the end of an action scene without saying who won the battle

    There are more, but they are all (like those above) just varaiations on the theme you posted.

    • tsuchigari says:

      All great ways to entice a reader to keep reading! I tend to use these types sparingly. Instead, I try to let the unresolved conflict be compelling enough to keep a reader wanting to see what happens.

  2. nrhatch says:

    First, let me Complement you on your Clever list ~ using Cohesive words Compelled me to Complete the list.

    Second, I appreciate the your list is Concise and did not wander about aimlessly, dribbling and drabbling about.

    Third, I agree with you about the Challenge of ending phone Conversations and Chapters.

    It’s one reason I prefer e-mails and cyber conversations to phone calls . . . I can put an end to them whenever I wish. {{SEND}}

    Perhaps the phenomenon arises because we are reluctant to let go of the past and embrace the future and its attendant Change?

  3. nrhatch says:

    I doubt I complemented your piece at all. : )

    But, perhaps, you took it as the compliment it had set out to be?

    Rik’s got good tips.

    If I’m enjoying a book, the chapters tend to flow together. I barely notice when one ends and the next begins.

    If I’m looking for a good stopping point, I page forward to see where the next chapter break appears. If it’s too far, I just stop . . . in . . . my . . . tracks.

    I guess what I’m saying is that books, like life, have a flow to them. If you’re enjoying the journey, you barely notice the transitions.

    • tsuchigari says:

      I thought it was pretty positive – compliment taken! Thanks!

      I’m the same, if I’m engrossed in a book I don’t even see the ends of chapters. However, if I need to put it down and there isn’t a chapter or scene break within a few pages I get a little annoyed.

  4. When i got the e-mail about your new post, I totally miss-read it as ‘the art of fishing’.
    That’s new…I thought… :S

  5. Heather says:

    First off, let me just thank you again for this extremely enriching blog. Your posts, as well as the feedback in the comments, are invaluable.

    I’m new to fiction writing (mostly in the past few years). I’m enjoying writing short stories, and working on my first novel (and, at the rate I’m going, should have it ready for my great-grandchildren to get published), but I’m actually glad it’s taking so long because I learn something new every day that I’m able to think about and incorporate.

    However, I’ve always loved reading good fiction, and, from that perspective, my thoughts on good ‘finishes’ would be YES! for the change. Cliff hangers are great, but I don’t want to have to reach for the ant-acids after I’m done. And, I also don’t want to read a book that’s going to put me to sleep every night… or in the afternoon… or whenever I pick it up… It’s imperative to mix it up.

    • tsuchigari says:

      Thanks! I love hearing when the material I post is well received. Keep at the book, a little at a time and before you know it, it will be finished and ready for polishing.

      I completely agree, for a cliffhanger to be most effective it has to be well timed in the story. Use too frequently and they become predictable.

  6. Agatha82 says:

    I was told once by a published author that was doing a writer’s workshop that it was a good idea to finish a chapter a couple of sentences before your “planned” finishing line. Guess that helps to leave the reader hanging so they want to turn the page and find out what happens next, but you can’t have one cliffhanger after another. Sooner or later, the poor reader needs a breather but the other thing that was also emphasised in this workshop was that EVERY single chapter has to be there for a GOOD reason and that if it’s only there to “set the scene” or tell some backstory, then, it has to go and that was a great early lesson for me.

    • Anonymous says:

      That’s interesting. One of the writing books I’ve read suggested STARTING each chapter two sentences past when you planned to start it.

    • tsuchigari says:

      Great advice – I hadn’t thought about it that way, but it totally makes sense. I’ve been thinking about if many of my scenes need to be there or not – almost all contribute something to the overall story, but there are a few that might not make the final cut.

  7. Another thoughtful post which sent me scurrying to my current WIP (45,000 words of a probable eventual 90,000). My chapter endings have evolved organically, without any real tweaking or contrivance. I have added ‘confusing’ (similar to compelling in that it is a ‘what happens next’ ending but in a more vague ‘what’s that about?’ way).
    Here’s the way my novel is shaping up:-
    Chapt 1: Compelling – what happens next
    Chapt 2: Concise – rounded off
    Chapt 3: Concise – rounded off
    Chapt 4: Clever – an unexpected punch
    Chapt 5: Confusing – what’s happening?
    Chapt 6: Compelling – what happens next
    Chapt 7: Compelling – what happens next
    Chapt 8: Concise – rounded off
    Chapt 9: Confusing – what’s happening
    I am pleased to discover that I have used ‘change’ in that a reader wouldn’t predict the type of chapter ending about to unfold. I did, however, find the chapter 3 ending was not particularly ‘cohesive’ in that the gentle rounding off did not fit with the tone of the whole chapter. I am off to change that to a ‘clever’ or ‘compelling’ segue.
    So thank you!

    • tsuchigari says:

      You sound like you are right on track with your planning and pacing for your book, way to go. I like the addition of confusing to the list – way to find a “c” term as well! That’s a great addition to the chapter closing toolbox.

      It makes me happy to hear that you were able to personally benefit from the post as well. Keep us updated on how things are turning out with writing the book.

  8. oldancestor says:

    I like the list.

    The genre of novel you are writing will have an impact on how chapters are ended. An Oprah’s Book Club story about a disabled child growing up in the 1920s will take a different approach than the latest Star Wars book.

    My novel is comic suspense, so I’d be doing a disservice to my imaginary readers if I didn’t throw a bunch of cliffhangers in there.

    Just off the top of my head, I probably do:

    30% cliffhanger

    50% trying to entice the reader into finding out how it will all turn out (I guess that fits into the category of Compelling)

    20% clever or funny. It’s a comedy after all.

    I suppose it also depends on if you are someone who outlines the whole thing or if you just write and see what comes out.

  9. When I end with a cliffhanger, I like to write the next chapter from a different point of view character or in a different setting. Then I return in the following chapter with progress towards resolving the cliffhanger.

  10. tsuchigari says:

    I meant to mention that! Great catch. You absolutely cannot continue with the same scene where you left off or it defeats the purpose. It makes the chapter break feel more like a commercial break.

    Announcer man: “We now return you to your regularly scheduled program”

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