Ending scenes the right way can be tricky. There are certain rules that each chapter, or scene, should follow. I know this is counter-intuitive since writing really doesn’t have any rules but bear with me.
The idea of a scene is to provide more information to the reader to keep interest and push the story forward. It also must answer previous questions so the reader feels they are accomplishing something.
The biggest thing a scene must do, though, is end with a question that the reader MUST have answered. If you can do all of this in every scene, then you will have a page-turning book that most will not be able to put down.
Reader Retention is Key
The biggest factor of any written story is getting the reader to the end. You want to write a compelling tale in such a way that it not only entertains the audience, but gives them something or someone to root for (or against).
You also need to write your scenes so that they accomplish several things. First, each scene should move the story forward. You don’t want to stall the story or make the reader pause their mental movie.
Next, the scenes need to answer questions from previous scenes. This part is more important than most give it credit for. You want your reader to have questions. It is what drives them to keep reading.
They should end up with a few questions that will last through various parts of your story. Before you give them a new question to ask, though, you should tie up some of the open questions they may already have.
Finally, when ending scenes you should give the reader a new question that they must, must have answered. Giving your audience burning questions will make them need to turn the page to find out the answer (or even better, determine if their answer is the correct one!).
Cliff Hangers Aren’t Always the Best Choice
It is easy to end a scene with a cliff hanger. Making that initial “HOLY SHIT!” reaction is almost always going to cause the reader to turn the page. The problem with this, though, is that if it done too often, you will run out of equally exciting conclusions to each cliff hanger.
If you push a guy off a building and on the next page let him be saved at the last moment by a giant trampoline, the first time the reader may be relieved. By the fourth or fifth time, though, they will be disappointed.
Remember that readers are fickle and easily bored. There are literally millions of options for them to read out there, make sure that you give them a book they want to come back to.
The audience should have just as many chances to be correct in their guess as to what happens (being predictable) as they do being completely surprised.
While a cliff hanger now and then is a good thing, having too many will make your story blander. This, in turn, will begin to frustrate readers and eventually turn them off from your story. Obviously, this is something we don’t want.
Ending Scenes Without Cliff Hangers
The main question, then comes up: how do we make the reader have questions that must be answered without leaving each ending scene on a cliff hanger?
There are quite a few ways to do so. You can easily add in a new character, move the environment of the scene to a new location, or even make a character disappear.
The point is, that the question doesn’t have to be plot-altering to be effective. Your readers, once engrossed in your story, won’t need a whole lot to keep going.
As long as the story is moving forward and you are giving them answers to their questions, they will keep reading. However, what we want is for them to want to put the book down but need to keep reading.
The ultimate success as a writer is when you can put words on a piece of paper and give it to someone you have never met and have them beg for more.
The ending of a scene is the perfect opportunity to have this happen.