How you should end the first chapter

There is so much talking about the opening phrase in a book that we forget how important the end of the chapter is. Especially the end of the first chapter. What can make the difference between a finished book and another one put aside with a read it later post-it on the cover is the way the first chapter is ending.

I will give an example, from a non-existent book, just for the sake of having a basis for future exposures in this article.

Basic text. End of chapter.

The ten children marched through the rain all night. Their legs ached terribly and their bodies were shivering with fear and cold. They couldn’t even smile when one of the older boys in the group said there was a building ahead. They entered one by one through its narrow door and enjoyed the warmth inside.

Type of change 1

The ten children marched through the rain all night. Their legs ached terribly and their bodies were shivering with fear and cold. They couldn’t even smile when one of the older boys in the group said there was a building ahead.

“There’s no light inside. I hope it’s abandoned. I can’t fight anyone tonight, said the tallest boy.”

What have I done? I have given up closing the action. I postponed the tension for chapter two. Are you curious to see what was in the building, whether it was empty or not? You need to start the next chapter.

The process is described as presenting a door in action. The door doesn’t have to be a physical one, as I chose in the example. It can have a figurative meaning, be an exchange of action, of direction, of opportunity.

Type of change 2

The ten children marched through the rain all night. Their legs ached terribly and their bodies were shivering with fear and cold. They couldn’t even smile when one of the older boys in the group said there was a building ahead.

It looked like the one they had escaped from. Did they roam in a circle all night?

Finishing with a question. Frustrating if you’re impatient by nature. Especially since you quickly realize that this was its goal. Hook you up and send you quickly to chapter two to see the answer. But, as a rule, curiosity wins and the reader chooses to keep reading.

Type of change 3

The ten children marched through the rain all night. Their legs ached terribly and their bodies were shivering with fear and cold. They couldn’t even smile when one of the older boys in the group said there was a building ahead.

“Oh, no. The door is locked on the inside, said one of the boys. He was pulling the door’s knob in vain.”

The heroes encounter an obstacle that causes them to change the route/method/pace/something. The reader must be left with the impression that the next chapter will reveal new things. Things he/she does not expect.

Type of change 4

The ten children marched through the rain all night. Their legs ached terribly and their bodies were shivering with fear and cold. They couldn’t even smile when one of the older boys in the group said there was a building ahead.

“Stop! It’s the house we escaped from,” said the group leader.

The heroes discover they’ve made a mistake. Chapter two will present a way out for sure. But for that, you have to read it.

As a general rule, the end of the chapter should not put the reader to sleep. It has to be a cliffhanger. Bring curiosity. Put questions in readers’ minds. The last sentence should work as a hook. The more subtly it is executed, the more stimulated the reader will be to move on to the next page. Without realizing that he/she was somewhat fooled to keep on reading.

Pay attention to the other endings of the chapters. Not all of them have to end this way. It becomes irritating when you can’t find the end of the action in any chapter in a 400-page novel.

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