I think I’m really lucky because pacing has always come naturally to me. Having said that comes the question, how do you know when to end a chapter? Again, that just comes naturally to me. I decide how long my book will be and how many pages I want in each chapter. Let’s say that number is fifteen. My style is to write from my hero and heroine’s point-of-view; one chapter hero, next heroine, etc. I jot down what page (give or take) my chapter should end . . . and keep on writing. The strange thing – when it starts feeling like the end of a chapter, that’s about fifteen pages.
Now that I have the pacing down, I always keep in mind the chapter should end in a way that makes it nearly impossible for the reader to put my book down. Yep, I want them reading into the wee hours of the morning. I want the reader to struggle closing the cover. So let’s discuss how to do just that.
Strange as it may sound, this is one area of writing you should not turn to the classics for help. In the days of Dickens, the first few pages of each chapter served to get the reader ready for the events to come. Let’s face it; today’s readers have less patience.
Creative chaptering is more imperative than ever. Think about it, by starting and ending in the right places, chapter breaks assist in building suspense and keeping your readers reading. Unlike sentences or paragraphs, chapter breaks can assist by producing intense pauses.
I have a tentative, pacing chapter break in mind. But I never hold myself to that fifteen pages if the story isn’t unfolding or intensifying on that fifteenth page. Don’t be so restrictive that your chapter break is forced, or not leading into the next chapter. I believe the most effective chapter breaks are created by writing first, and evaluating as the chapters unfold.
As I mentioned earlier, only as you begin actually writing the novel should you give any thought to the chapter structure. As a chapter unfolds, I wait until I get to a point that jumps out as a good place for a break. To me the chapter break feels right . . . it’s a jolt of excitement. It’s a question or a statement. It should make my reader ask; Really? Why? Could it be? or just plain leave my reader gasping.
Sometimes a chapter break serves the purpose of a changes of place or changes of time. My chapter changes always involve a change of point of view. But even though this is the case, they are also ending in suspense, drama, internal conflict, or a suggested change of some kind—of place, of perspective, of plot direction.
Not realizing it, chapter breaks offer stability and pacing—both of which are essential for balancing your story. So how can you end a chapter so that the sleepy reader is forced to keep the light on?
If you want your reader to say; I couldn’t-put-the-book-down, the good old-fashioned cliffhanger is often the key.
But let’s face it, every chapter can’t end this way. It becomes expected, which is something you don’t ever want anybody to say about your novel. It’s obvious that after a while this tactic loses its punch. Suspension of disbelief can go just so far. Never forget that any cliffhanger has to be an integral part of the whole story, not a superfluous red-herring inserted just for effect.
Another thing to consider is that a cliffhanger chapter ending doesn’t have to be an action scene. If you leave your reader “hanging,” you’re chapter break works for you.
Use techniques like these to your sleepy reader fighting to keep her/his eyes open all night, page by page, chapter by chapter, book by book.