This Business of Writing

The Secrets to Chapters in Your Novel

In How-to's, Marketing Your Book on March 8, 2010 at 8:20 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article, click HERE.


With everything in creative writing there are rules to follow and the construction of a chapter is no different. With that said, know every writers’ rule is designed to be broken. (The proof to the pudding? The rules say you should never use the verb, “to be,” nor should you employ clichés as with the last four words of the first sentence in this paragraph.) Regardless, with chapter design, there are a few techniques you might employ to both entice and engross your reader.

Let’s first review the purpose of a chapter. It’s primary reason, of course, is to move the story toward its conclusion. Your story has a beginning and an end, and the intervening chapters should do nothing more than move the first chapter toward the last. Chapters can be used to introduce characters, establish setting and to set up or enhance conflict. Regardless, every chapter must tempt your reader to continue with your novel.

The first rule of chapter construction, first chapter or last, is to begin as late in the chapter as possible. This technique helps you get to the meat of the chapter. It prods you to cut out the fluff, those nonessential parts of your narrative, and write only about those things necessary to move your story forward. Readers have a tendency to skim over disinteresting parts of a book, so beginning late in the chapter encourages you to write only those words meaningful to the story as a whole.

The second and last rule of chapter construction flows from the first. It says to end the chapter as early as you can. As before, that means eliminate anything immaterial to your storyline. Tighten your writing, tighten it again, then tighten it once more.

That’s it? Two rules? Yep. That’s about it, but the fun lies in figuring out how to break those rules, doesn’t it?

In any case, I’ve got some other thoughts for you to consider. First, allow me to tell you how I handle short chapters. I mean REALLY short, four hundred word chapters. While working on “Born to be Brothers,” I found a couple short chapters accomplished what I needed. They couldn’t be eliminated, but neither did they require additional length. When I printed the manuscript, these two page chapters didn’t “feel” right. They looked too short. My solution came from a book I recently started reading. That author had many, many of these diminutive elements and he simply started his next chapter on the same page the last one ended. Whoa! Not only did that solve my “look” issue, it made it difficult to set his book down.

Now a few ideas as to how to end your chapters. Most of us have learned to end them with the classic cliffhanger, and that works well. But what other ways exist to end one of those numerous chapters in the middle of your book? Here are some ideas.

Introduce a secret. That’s always fun.

End with a oath. My favorite is in “Gone with the Wind” when Scarlett vows never to go hungry   again.

End with a reversal of fortune. Always exciting

End with a revelation. Here, my favorite is in “206 Bones” by Kathy Reiches (rikes) where the heroine wakes only to determine at the end of the chapter she’s been entombed.

Your chapter endings need to insure your readers continue to scour the pages of your novel, so a bit of time spent on designing your chapters should pay dividends.

For more ideas on how to end your chapters, consult THIS POST by K. M. Weiland.

Until next time, know I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.

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  1. very useful thank you

  2. Well… that’s very interessting but honestly i have a hard time visualizing it… wonder what others have to say..

    • Sorry it took so long to get back to you. I somehow missed this comment.

      I’m not sure what you had a difficult time visualizing. Would you care to elaborate?

      Thanks.

      Patrick

  3. Great article. Thanks so much for linking back to my blog!

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