By Suzanne Woods Fisher
A while ago, I read an interview in my local newspaper featuring a woman who had just turned one hundred years old. The reporter wanted to know this centenarian’s inner motivation. What had given her that “oomph factor” to live so long?
“I want to know,” she said, “what happens next.”
That comment hit me like a ton of bricks…and it keeps on hitting me. Here’s the thing: that one sentence summarizes the essence of good writing. You want to make your reader feel so invested in the story that she has to turn the page, even if it’s past midnight and she’s just finished another chapter. She has to find out what happens next.
I try to end every chapter in a book so that the reader is on her toes, not her heels. It’s not easy to do—finishing a scene in such a way that it segues, subtly, into an unfinished moment, or even a question.
There’s one particular ending in On a Coastal Breeze that provides a good example of “what happens next?” Maddie Grayson, the main character, is struggling with her complicated feelings about the sudden arrival of her old boyfriend, Rick O’Shea. Long ago, during senior prom, things had gone terribly wrong between them. After all these years, why had he tracked Maddie down, all the way to a remote island off the coast of Maine? What was he after? Typical of Rick, he avoids her questions with steady banter. Finally, at the end of this particular chapter, he grows serious.
“Maddie, what would change if you knew you only had a year to live?”
The next chapter picks right up where that sentence left off, still in Maddie’s point of view. I don’t usually start a sentence with dialogue, but this time, it worked. And the publisher set the dialogue in all caps for an added bonus of drama.
“WHAT?” A chill went down Maddie’s spine. “What did you say?”
“What would change for you if you knew you had a year to live?” Rick said. “Or a month? Or a day?”
Interestingly, that chapter end/chapter beginning is the very heart of the book. That isn’t true of other chapter endings, and some of my endings are definitely better than others, but improving the way a chapter draws to an end–so that it pulls a reader forward–is one of the best ways to take writing up a notch. Take time with your chapter endings. And always keep “what happens next” in mind.Stumped by chapter endings? Keep your reader on her toes, not her heels.@suzannewfisher #ACFWBlogs #writetip #ACFWCommunity #writing Click To Tweet
Suzanne Woods Fisher is an award-winning, bestselling author of more than thirty books, including On a Summer Tide, as well as the Nantucket Legacy, Amish Beginnings, The Bishop’s Family, and The Inn at Eagle Hill series, among other novels. She is also the author of several nonfiction books about the Amish, including Amish Peace and Amish Proverbs. She lives in California. Learn more at www.suzannewoodsfisher.com and follow Suzanne on Facebook @SuzanneWoodsFisherAuthor and Instagram @suzannewoodsfisher.
Today will be an uphill climb,
tomorrow’s will be steeper,
and it will soon come the time
to go and meet the Reaper.
I cannot step without a cough,
I cannot breathe around the pain;
once, yes, I could laugh it off,
but I think I’ll still remain
to see the gem that might be held
by the coming hour,
perhaps a storm across the veld,
so regal in its power
and worth the living to be awed
by the mighty work of God.
A good chapter ending makes me want to keep reading the story. 🙂
This is something I work really hard on in my writing.