The ends of chapters are punctuation; the periods that put “paid” to sections of the story. But they also do something. Something far more important.
Chapter ends are among the most powerful tools the writer has for propelling the reader into the rest of the story. If they seem to be the end of something, that’s the last thing they are. They ask for an action…
They ask the reader to jump.
The end of a chapter is a hurdle. It’s a natural stopping place; the time-to-put-the-book-down-and-get-some-shuteye place. It doesn’t need to be. And therein lies the trick of it. The skill of crafting it well.
Why should an end-of-chapter be the sleeping pill of a book? Why should it give the reader permission to do anything else but to read on?
If the close of the chapter wants to propel the story rather than stop it–if it is to be an active device and not a passive one–it must hint. It must tease. It must report that something monumental has happened…and it must suggest that something even more important soon will.
The chapter might end softly. With an insinuation. It might end with an idea unresolved, like an unfinished chord progression. It might tell us that, yes, what just happened was what you thought was happening all along. It might say that everything you know is wrong.
The chapter ending may not move the plot forward. It may not carry the characters’ lives to the next place. But it must send the reader to the places that do. If the writer has created a mental space in which the reader finds it impossible to turn off the light and go to sleep, then the story has done what it ought to do.
If the chapter-end is a hurdle, it’s one with its own leap built into it. A challenge with a multitude of solutions. If you know where to find them.