This week we’ve been talking all about chapters. Check out the tag CHAPTER to navigate to the other posts and today we’re talking about…
How Do You Begin a Chapter?
There’s a few things you want to do here.
You want to start in a way that makes your reader want to read the story.
You want there to be continuity from the last chapter so it doesn’t feel jerky and episodic.
You want to have a good first line to pull the reader along for the whole length of the chapter. It is the Oreo cookie or potato chip of the writing world. You want to make it so delicious that the reader just can’t eat/read just one sentence, but send them on a gobbling frenzy.
Usually, you want to:
- Show where the characters are.
- Have some action.
- Actually have a character. That should have been #1.
You can start A CHAPTER BY oR WITH:
- With setting the scene.
- Dialogue, but this isn’t a big hot thing to do right now. If you do this, make it exciting and give us some physical grounding and characters pretty quickly.
- In the middle of the action. If you want to be fancy say, in medias res. That’s fancy.
You want to make sure THE CHAPTER Is:
- Not boring.
- Makes sense with the rest of the story.
- That we readers know where the characters are. You don’t want them just floating out in the ether (usually). That’s why you want to give us the who, what, when, where, why of the story, too.
- That the chapter has a point. If you took this chapter out, would you still have a story? If so, the chapter needs to go. (I made that rhyme.)
That’s really such an important question that I’m going to repeat it:
If you took the chapter out, would the story still make sense?
If it does, then you want to take that chapter out.
Or — If so, the chapter needs to go.
I really can’t resist a dorky rhyme.
Along those lines, your chapter should do a couple things:
- Help the character transform.
- Give the character a goal and show movement or loss towards that goal.
- Be part of the novel’s cause and effect that creates the novel’s plot.
- Have an ending that compels the reader to keep reading after the pause.
This is really part of what it means when I say that your chapter needs to have a point.
These little babies are what worry a lot of writers. How do you end things? You’ve been in a relationship with this chapter for a long few pages, hammering out the words on the keyboard, spending time together.
It’s so hard to let go!
But seriously, when should your time together end?
Good times to end your chapter are:
- After a big turning point in your story. If you’re following a beat sheet or outline, those turning points are great places to pause.
- Right before a big turning point in your story.
- Right after something scary happened.
- Right before something scary happens.
- Right after something emotionally resonating happened.
- Right after something is figured out.
Look at your favorite books and the last three paragraphs of each chapter. What just happened? What’s about to happen? You can learn a lot about chapter breaks and structure this way.
A lot of times you’ll see that where The Chapters end are:
- Moments of suspense. Something big is about to happen.
- Moments of reflection. The character is thinking about something big that just happened.
- Moments of questioning. The what do I do or what did I do times.
There! I hoped this helped a bit!
LET’S HANG OUT!
Do you want to take a little online course, learn with me as your writing coach, buy some art or listen to our podcasts? Or give me a buck and read unpublished books on Patreon?
Just CLICK ON THIS LINK and find out how we can interact more
And to hear our podcast latest episode for DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE about bears in outhouses and chapter titles, click here.