Monday 27 March 2017

Ending Chapters with a Hook

with Marilyn Forsyth

Image courtesy of Giphy

Deciding when and where chapter breaks should go in your book is definitely an art.

I’m a plotter so I work from an outline for the whole book (control freak, much? 😉). I even used to break my outline into chapters, before I learned the value of structuring by scene and then placing chapter/scene breaks where they’re most appropriate.

Image courtesy of Giphy

Lately, I’ve been reading about ending chapters with a hook—of the need for a cliff-hanger that will keep your readers fighting to keep those eyelids from closing as they read on way past their bedtime because they HAVE to find out what happens.

Here’s what I’ve discovered: some writers believe you can’t have enough chapter hooks in a book, and other writers…don’t!

Here’s my take: I love a good cliff-hanger, but ending every chapter with one can become not only exhausting for the reader, but can also make your book predictable (not a good thing to be said about your writing). I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s best to leave something unresolved at the end of most chapters.

You can do this in a number of ways. (All examples are from Falling in Love Again, Book 2 in my Outback Gems series, to be released by Harlequin Escape April 15th, 2017.)

links to buy (release date April 15 2017)
1. A surprise occurs e.g. Who is this new character? ‘A soft click and the door pushed open. Jamie jumped to his feet. ‘Who’s there?’’

2. There is about to be a revelation. ‘She pressed the tips of her fingers to his mouth. ‘There’s something I need to tell you.’’

3. Your MC is forced to make a crucial decision. ‘The ace up her sleeve had been played and she’d lost. So what the hell was she going to do now?’

4. Hint at a mystery that demands an answer e.g. What did she see? ‘Gemma knocked and then entered without waiting. Inside she stopped dead. Transfixed.’

5. Your MC is in real physical danger (Emphasis on real! Don’t make that explosion nothing more than fireworks.) ‘‘Run!’ Jamie bellowed. Then the roof collapsed.’

6. A new challenge raises the stakes and makes it more difficult for your MC to achieve her goals. ‘Her ex-husband’s calculating eyes took in the scene. ‘Hello, darling.’ The endearment rolled off Roger’s tongue with practised ease, his voice deceptively gentle. ‘Fancy meeting you here.’

Inspiration for Jamie (James Stewart)

7. Your MC has a powerful emotional reaction to a situation. ‘The only man she’d ever loved would never know what walking away from him had cost her.’

8. Your MC makes a discovery. She/he remembers something, or learns something, or figures something out. 'He just knew he had to get back to her. Back to where he belonged.'

9. An urgent demand is made. 'One side of his father's face had sagged and confusion clouded his eyes. He slurred something unintelligible. 'Harry?' Fear skittered up Jamie's spine.'

Inspiration for Gemma (Teresa Palmer)
And for those chapters that don’t end on a cliff-hanger? 

It can be a statement reinforcing the conflict. ‘Maybe he’d choke on his steak. Gemma smiled to herself; if only all her problems were so easily solved.’

Or a summary of the situation. ‘Though a lot remained unspoken, the fact that Jamie had asked her to stay must count for something.’

Or a prediction of what lies ahead. ‘He had his reasons. Reasons that would become obvious as the night wore on.’

By interspersing chapter breaks like these throughout the book, your writing won’t suffer the curse of predictability and at the same time, you’ll keep your readers happily turning those pages and grateful to you for the emotional down-time.

Do you like a book where every chapter ends on a hook? Or do you prefer some emotional down-time with your reading?

Love to Love packing for an overseas trip. Vietnam is next on the holiday agenda.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Love to Laugh at what people might think of my browsing history. Yesterday it was Effects of Male Castration and Welsh Swear Words (for research purposes, honest!)

Love to Learn by attending conferences. The Historical Novel Society of Australasia conference in Melbourne in September looks amazing.


  1. Great post Marilyn. Personally, I love a good cliff-hanger but not at the end of every chapter. However, I think if you have all sorts of cliff-hangers like the ones you have suggested it can make it less exhausting.

    1. Hi Cassandra! I know what you mean. I love a good cliffhanger, too, but I do need some downtime, especially when the story is emotionally wringing.

  2. Thanks for showing how chapter endings can be effective even when they're not the traditional cliffhanger type. Very informative post.

    1. Thanks Enisa! So glad you found the post helpful.

  3. Hi Marilyn, I like chapter endings that keep me interested. Hooks and intriguing emotional downtime both work for me. Thanks for such an informative article well-supported by examples.

  4. Hi Sharon! Hope you found something useful for your own writing. ;)

  5. Marilyn, sometimes I curse those chapter hook endings...especially when I'm supposed to be sleeping. But I do know it makes me return to the book eager to read on; I can't wait to see what happens next. In miniseries on TV, same as well. So I do love a good hook ending. I *don't* love them when a book completely ends up in the air. I think a book should be complete, whole, and not sequel itself to death like that. I feel ripped off if the ending is left hanging! Congratulations on your new release, I'm excited about reading it.

    1. Thanks on the congrats, Malvina! I'm so excited to have another book out in the world in a couple of weeks. I do have a few hook endings, but also that downtime that a reader needs. I really hope you enjoy it. 😀


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