Chapter Setting

January 27, 2006 | It's All About Writing

What the hell is that and where does this broad come up with these phrases?

Well, this broad will tell you what it’s not. Chapter setting is not the grace and charm you display as you lay your manuscript into yet another unsuspecting friend’s hands.

Chapter Setting is where you break the chapter and determine its best location within your manuscript.

As you well know, every adult book has chapters. You, as the author, get to decide how many there will be, how they begin and end, and the placement of each chapter. You, as the writer, have to create such an impact on your reader that they want to turn the page.

I had one chapter in Teddi Turns On that had 8,843 good, edited, words. My critique partners, Beth Anderson and Yasmine Phoenix, listened patiently as I read every single one of those words. Did I mention their eyes glazed over about half way through the diatribe?

“Too long?” asked I.
“Aahh,” they muttered between yawns and stretching.

I didn’t need the infamous 2×4 to get the hint.

We went through that chapter, line by line, scene by scene, to determine the best point to break. It turned out to be a logical scene where the chapter went from one point of view to another. Simple enough but there’s more to chapter setting.

Every chapter ending must make the reader want to continue, excite them enough to want to find out what happens.

Here’s a little sample;

Gina was tormented with indecision. She tossed and turned, twisting the sheets into a knot, until she finally rolled over and fell asleep.

Make you want to turn the page? Not hardly. Why should your reader go any further? Gina slept. End of story. The reader will probably toss your hard work into the fire and bitch about the $10.00 they wasted. Will they buy another book written by you? Not likely.

End every chapter with a cliff-hanger. You can’t? You’re going to let chapter 15 slide? Guess you don’t want to be published let alone aim for the best seller list.

How about a slight alteration to our example?

Gina was tormented with indecision. She tossed and turned, twisting the sheets into knots.

Better, not great, but at least it’s heading in the right direction.

In my humble opinion, the best ending is;

Gina was tormented with indecision.

Now your reader wants to find out what the indecision is and how Gina handled it.

Tease your reader. They’ll flip the page with the hope of discovering the resolution.

Surprise! You’ve taunted them again by inserting a chapter that doesn’t give the conclusion. Instead it’s a new chapter, in another character’s point of view, about a totally different phase of the book. The reader may have to continue for another forty pages to discover Gina’s outcome. And they’ll love you for it.

You must withhold the information from the reader. It’s the old carrot and horse thing. You can’t let go of the carrot until the timing is right.

This is the time in your novel writing to go through your manuscript and make sure;

• chapters are ended in the correct spot
• each chapter is a cliff-hanger
• chapter placement is timely to your story

I’ll be back on Tuesday with Tighten the Writing. Until then…

Happy writing!

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6 Responses to “Chapter Setting”

  1. Sherrill Quinn Says:

    Good stuff, Sloane! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Jenna Howard Says:

    8000 words? Good grief woman!

    One reason why I like to write novellas is that you just write – no chapter breaks and then you can go through and add them. I did that with Midnight Hour and dang that was good chapter ending stuff.

    Great stuff.

  3. Sloane Says:

    Thanks, girls. I appreciate you reading all this and your opinions.

  4. Yasmine Says:

    If B reads this and is bored, tell her to hop over to my blog. I’m writing about the joys of raising a daughter.
    I didn’t yawn that much, although my head did hit the table once. No, you’ve got page turner down, Sloane.

  5. For The Trees Says:

    Here’s a whole other aspect of writing I hadn’t even considered. Mostly because I haven’t written any chapter settings worth the time it takes to set them. or something.

    I’ve been ending chapters where there’s a break in the action, an ending of some sort. Maybeso I need to go back and completely redo the whole thing.

    At this rate I will end up with a mainstream literary novel that reads like an eroromance. Hmmm, I’m ALREADY genre-bashing, may as well go ALL the way…

    Thanks, Sloane!

  6. Sloane Says:

    You’re welcome, Forrest. Personally I think you have a lot of ability. Your humor is witty and you have good things to say. There’s no reason you don’t write a mainstream. Focus is the key.

    I’m sorry I haven’t been able to drop by your blog. Life’s been insane with writing, this blog, and my daughter. I hope to regain my life later this next week.