Last week, I discussed ways in which to begin a scene in your novel. Alas, every scene also must end, and that is what we are going to focus on today.
Every scene has a beginning, middle and end. The ending moments complete the scene and should leave the reader wanting more. It should make them eager to begin the next scene.
It is always best to end a scene as early as possible. You want your last statement to be strong and not full of unnecessary details. Depending on the situation, you can end the scene with a sense of finality or with something that propels the reader forward.
Remember that each scene is part of a larger story. The ending of a scene should make the reader think, “That was good. I want more.” And then plunge ahead into the next scene.
A popular ending is the Cliffhanger Ending. This type of ending is characterized by stopping the scene just as a major action is about to take place or in the middle of the action at a crucial point. The easiest way to think about this is to watch a TV drama. Something important is revealed and then…cut to commercial break. That leaves the viewer hanging around waiting for the show to return rather than channel surfing. You want the same type of reaction from your reader.
Cliffhanger endings typically happen at the end of chapters forcing the reader to start the next chapter to see what happens. (I have stayed up WAY TOO LATE often because of this technique.)
However, some authors do not continue the scene in the next chapter. In order to heighten the reader’s curiosity, they insert a scene or chapter that takes place somewhere else, perhaps with different characters. (I personally don’t like this when I am reading. I usually would rather skip ahead and find out what happened to the character in peril than read about another character.)
Even though the cliffhanger ending is a powerful tool, you can’t use it to end ALL of your scenes. Your ending to other scenes can still build anxiety in the reader as one of the characters wonders if she ever sees her family again or feels that moment of panic when they realize they are lost.
Another type of ending is one that implies the character would have done something different if they knew what was about to happen. “If I had known today was going to end this way, I would have stayed in bed.” Or “Had Sally realized she was going to die today she would have stayed buried under the covers.”
Your end of a scene might reveal insight into one of the characters. This might happen through an internal monologue that the character is having about the events that occurred in the scene, or it could happen through dialogue with another character. Ending in the middle of dialogue can be confusing to the reader, but it also can heighten a passionate or revealing exchange. The exact place the dialogue ends could reveal a lot about the character: their fears, hopes, how they are changing.
Sometimes a scene ends with a note about the setting or the character doing something mundane. But the fact we are focused on it elevates that item to greater importance.
No matter what ending you decide to use, remember to make sure they do their job: hook the reader into wanting to read more.