Often times, the little things are what count the most. I find that to be true both in life and in writing. In this series of blog posts, I plan to take a look at some of the little things I’ve learned over the years as a writer and share what I’ve found most effective in helping me tighten my craft. Today, let’s take a look at chapter endings and chapter beginnings!
Chapter endings are one of my favorite early lessons from my editing/beta reading guru, Wendy. She was the one who taught me that a chapter ending should be a mini-cliffhanger. The idea is to keep a reader going. “Oh just one more chapter,” they’ll say when the reach the end.
When I wrote Blue Violet, I put the chapters in last, finding natural breaking points – changes of scene or point of view. Wendy was ruthless in telling me when the chapter endings were flat. Still is. I know to try to end them with my version of “uh-oh” or “da. da. da.” or “what’s next?”. You don’t have to have a dramatic ending every time, but some little something to keep the reader going.
How about an example?
Alex nodded his agreement and saw Ramsey do the same across the room. In truth, he was often homesick while he was away at college. He’d become used to having a family around him, despite the years he’d spent alone. Secretly he was pleased with this chance to be home.
Blue Violet Modified:
Alex nodded his agreement and saw Ramsey do the same across the room. In truth, he was often a little homesick while he was away at college. He’d become used to having a family around him, despite the years he’d spent alone. Secretly he was pleased with this chance to be home.
Alex and the rest of the family failed to see the large, oddly colored golden falcon perched high in the trees just outside the house.
It’s not a huge addition – one simple sentence. But it makes you want to go to the next chapter more than “I’m happy to be home.” does, right?
I’m still working on these, but here are the three rules of thumb I try to stick to:
- Establish the setting, even if it’s continuing from the previous chapter, but especially if you’re changing scenes. Set the mood, time/place, situation so your reader isn’t flailing around.
- Jump into it. Don’t start a chapter with a long description, get to the action quickly. You made them turn to the next chapter with your great ending, now keep them going.
- Don’t ramble. (Harder than it sounds when you’re setting the scene.)
Examples again? You got it. (Just a basic one – first sentence.)
Sarai’s Fortune Original:
The morning light filtered into the hallway from a window at the far end.
The comment from a friend who critiqued my first chapters was, “At the far end of what? Ground the reader in case the put the book down between chapters.” Excellent advice Anna!
Sarai’s Fortune Modified:
The morning light filtered into the hallway from a window at the far end as Zac made his way to Andie’s room after breakfast.
If you have any tips around chapter endings or beginnings please feel free to share! I’m always looking for ways to improve my writing. 🙂