Monday, July 27, 2015

How Should Chapter One END?

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Birch House Press). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.

(This post is part of the Writing A Novel From Beginning to End series. You can find other posts from this series on the Looking For Something Specific? tab.)

As writers, we talk a lot about how to start our book, and how to hook the reader with just the right opening to the story. But what about when you're figuring how to end your first chapter? What should that look like?

First, why does it even matter how you end chapter one? Ending scenes and chapters well is important overall, but your first chapter is special. For one thing, it's possible your reader still hasn't completely bought into reading this book. Ending your first chapter well is an opportunity to show a reader that they're in capable hands and you're going to tell them a good story.

Also, when you're published, it's common to put the first chapter of your book on your website. In that situation, you definitely want to end in a way that encourages a reader to wish for chapter two.

But what does it mean to end your chapter well?

Like we talked about last week with story openings having a mood that reflects the mood of the story, I prefer to end chapter one with the same mood. I also like to end with a moment or reflection that points to something important to the character's journey.

I accomplished both of those in The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet with this close to chapter one:
I watch his car fade from sight. Yes, I definitely prefer the worlds I create. I like it better when everyone plays by my rules. 
This is a reflective moment that comes on the tail of a confrontation, and it's something that Ellie will have to acknowledge over and over throughout the bookthat the people in her life aren't behaving the way she wishes they would.

Here's another example from Out with the In Crowd (book two in The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series)
Somehow, her saying this made me want to to tell her, but I bit back the answer. Too many people had burned me recently. I'd lost interest in trusting anyone.
Trust—specifically how to trust when you've been deeply hurtis a big issue of Skylar's in the second installment of her story.

Endings like this work for coming-of-age stories like Ellie's and Skylar's, but if you definitely want to consider your genre. For an adventure, suspense, or humor novel, a reflective ending likely won't feel as though it fits.

With my historical suspense novel, I reworked the ending of chapter one several times to get it to close on a suspenseful note:
But my gaze catches on something strange ahead on the sidewalk. A crumpled girl with long flames of hair who’s wearing a uniform identical to mine. A scream rips through the bright blue afternoon—my own.
A chapter ending of this nature would seem very out of place in my contemporary novels, so be sure you're thinking about your genre and the mood of your story as you close chapter one.

Examine the ending to your first chapter. How well do you think you've done at capturing the mood of the story? Try pulling a book or two off your shelf that you've read and liked; how does the author finish chapter one? Does it make you want to read on?

(I'm traveling today so I won't be able to interact in the comments like I normally do, but I'll still be able to read them!)


  1. I'm sure my first chapter ends properly--several not-family readers have given it good feedback. :) Since I write fantasy/adventure, I usually try to end the first chapter with a bit of a cliffhanger and a wisp of the world to come. Thanks for the post, Mrs. Morrill!

  2. I normally find myself ending on a bit of a cliffhanger. It can be really hard to come to a point in that first chapter where I'm actually ready to end it, though. Sometimes my scenes just don't want to end!

  3. In my WIP, The Assassin's Mercy, the first chapter ends like this--

    The assassin fell to his knees in pain, the utter exhaustion of summoning the fire washing over him. His spine tingled with the magic, and the last thing he remembered was Servus laughing, and someone screaming, before the world became nothing but darkness in the wind.

    It's not too good...anyway, i usually struggle with endings rather than beginnings. Maybe it's because I'm a pantser. But interesting post. :)

    1. I have to say that sounds really cool.

    2. Great job! Love your writing style :-)

    3. I agree with Emma--it does sound cool.

    4. Thanks you guys! It means a lot.

  4. I left my chapter one on a kind of cliffhanger and inside joke from earlier in the chapter. I'll probably change it, but I'm only in chapter ten, so when I have the ending completed I'll fix it to represent the mood better.

  5. Mine my current WIP I think I was able to pull this off better than any other of my finished books. I didn't really even realize that this was necessary so I'm glad you mentioned this! I'm trying to think of the other novel I finished and I'm wondering if I did this... thanks for the post! I'll be glad to start intentionally putting it to use! :D

  6. Thank you for this, Stephanie. I'm currently reworking my first chapter (which needs LOTS of work, but we won't talk about that. xD) and this is super helpful. Hopefully I'll be able to get the right feel of the ending so readers want to read on. :)
    Also, I love it when you provide examples from your own writing. It helps everything become a lot clearer on what you're talking about.

  7. That's an extremely helpful article. Thank you, Stephanie. :)

  8. Very helpful. Nice article.