Author Jill Myles offers tips on how to figure out when to end your chapters for maximum reader-interest.
One of the common misconceptions that starting writers have is that there should be a specific place that one should end a chapter. A chapter break should come after 10 pages or a certain amount of scenes. Perhaps after a laundry list of occurrences – a chapter should be at least ten pages, but only if it includes one instance of each of the following: character growth, the plot takes a turn for the worse, a hero becomes an enemy, and a clue to the mystery is discovered.
Sorry, but that’s all worthless advice.
There’s no magic formula for creating the exact length for your chapter. It’s not going to mystically reveal the best place to end a chapter once you’ve written the prerequisite ten pages. Nor should you arbitrarily end the chapter just wherever seems like a nice spot. So what’s a writer to do?
Dictionary.com suggests that a chapter is: a main division of a book, treatise, or the like, usually bearing a number or title. Well…that’s really unhelpful for a writer.
Rather than focusing on how long a chapter should be, you should focus on what the chapter does. The chapter is a break in the story, of course. It’s meant to show that this particular portion of the story has come to a close, and the reader has a safe place to stop reading and continue on with their day. It’s a good place to rest and relax.
It is your job as the writer to make sure that this does not happen. The last thing you want is a relaxed reader who doesn’t care if they pick the book up again, right? Right. As the writer, your goal is to end your chapter while ensuring that the reader will want to keep turning pages.
This portion of the story should still come to its natural conclusion, of course. You don’t want to end chapters mid-scene with no big revelation on the other side. Readers will feel cheated. And you can’t just eschew chapter breaks entirely; your editor would weep.
Instead, think of chapters as TV episodes – you have to give the viewer some sort of payoff in order to keep them tuned in until the very end of the show. How does the network make sure that you tune in next week? They tease you about what’s upcoming, with a few scenes from next week’s episode.
That’s the trick: tease the reader. Throw that bombshell in just when the characters are starting to relax, and then end the chapter. Have the heroine confess her secret baby to the hero, or have the hero confess that he’s a vampire. END CHAPTER. Your goal of making the reader stay up late for ‘just a few pages more’? Accomplished.
There’s no right or wrong length for a chapter. Don’t let that be your focus. Rather, your job as the writer is to leave the reader wanting more. That’s where you can really make your story a page turner.
- Jill Myles