Everyone seems to be talking about the first page of a book . . . it must grip the reader – or face it the story is over. I recently wrote such a blog. A few days later I asked myself, “What about the ending?”
One of my editors told me, “You have a great sense of chaptering.” My response was, “what?” I had always called it ‘pacing.’ So what do we mean by chaptering or pacing?
When I have a story in mind – and I have a ‘loose’ beginning – middle – and end. I also decide how long the book will be. I have to do this or I’ll end up with a one-hundred-thirty thousand word novel. I’m not kidding. So from the beginning I have to discipline myself and have a good grip on how long my chapters will be and also have a firm feel for how many chapters I will have.
My formula is fifteen pages per chapter for a smaller novel (-65,000 words) and 25 pages for a longer novel (70,000+ words). Why? It just feels right for my writing style. I’ve learned after fourteen books that for a sixty-four thousand word book I average fifteen pages (give or take) by the time I’m ready for a new chapter. With me it’s instinct. I know for some it’s a real challenge. I think that it will be less challenging if you pre-plan each chapter to be a specific average page. It keeps the story flowing with rhythm. If my heroine gets the first chapter, the second chapter belongs to the hero. So sets the flow of the chapters trading as each new chapter starts.
This alerts my senses and makes me cognizant I’m approaching the middle – and why is that important? It prompts me to create an exciting middle. Those warnings about sagging middles aren’t just myths. We need to introduce something exciting, a surprise, or a twist that makes our reader turn those pages at a fast pace.
It’s important to be aware of your chapter breaks. You never want a reader to stop at the end of a chapter and think, ‘here is a good place to stop.’ Instead, your chapter break should serve as a building tool for suspense or revelation. The reader just has to find out what is going to happen next.As I mentioned above, change of view point is a good tool for chapter breaks. A change of place or time is another clever way to position chapter breaks. Just make these exciting, fresh and/or mysterious. A chapter break is an indication there has been a significant change, whether point of view, time or place, it serves to give the reader a slight chance for a breather. Let them pause for a second and then make them gasp for more. Look at it this way – it provides a chance for flow and pacing.
Bear in mind you can’t have a gripping chapter break every time. Why? It’s too planned … to expected. When that happens, you lose the believability factor. I hate gratuitous drama – if it’s not integral to the story – it becomes unnecessary and the reader will notice it right away. We’ve all heard the comment ‘suspension of disbelief’ – always ask yourself would you believe what just happened!
Bear in mind, chapter breaks do not always have to end in action. It should end, however, when the reader anticipates an answer, or has a revelation, or even when there is the introduction of a new character that sheds a whole new light on a situation.Develop your own technique that works best for you. Give your story a natural flow and pacing that creates chapters - from beginning to end - so exciting your reader can’t find a good place to stop.