Endings are important. This is a universal truth, right? But I'm going to step out a limb and say that the how your chapters end is more important than how your book ends. Why? Because while the end of your book impacts how the readers think about your book in total, it is how your chapters end that will keep your readers reading.
As novelists, we all want to write the book that has the reader saying over the watercooler, "I was up reading until 4 in the morning! I just couldn't put it down!"
My day job is writing serial fiction for a woman's magazine. Each story is three or four parts, 3800 words each. Each part must end in a way that makes the reader want to come back for more. The stakes are high here. The reader has to be so drawn in that they will think about it all week, go to the store, and shell out a few more bucks for the next issue so they can read what happens next.
The cliffhanger (named for the 1930s episodic movies where the hero was literally dangling from a cliff when the credits went down -- check out the Wiki link here) is so important for serials that I write the endings first. When I pitch a new idea to the editor, it is the overall story and the part endings that I pitch. Because if the endings don't work, the serial won't either.
This is a valuable technique for novelists. Every chapter needs to end in a way that makes the reader want to turn the page. Unfortunately, I learned this too late for my last project, where I structured that novel so that each chapter ended when my MC was going to bed. Looking back now, I see that was just an invitation for the reader to put down the book at the end of a chapter. The last thing you want is for your reader to say, "Nothing exciting is happening now, so this is a good spot for me to stop reading."
You don't have to leave your characters dangling off a cliff at the end of each chapter. Not every cliffhanger is mortal peril. It can end with a choice, a question, the prelude to a fight...anything has your reader wondering -- or even better, DEMANDING -- to know what happens next.
And that's why endings are..wait... excuse me a minute, there's an email in my inbox. I don't believe it! It's...
What does our hero find? Tune in next blog post to find out!