Writing Tip #1: Keep Your Readers Reading by Knowing When to End Chapter

I’m so close to finishing my WIP, I can taste it. AUGUSTINA, the sequel to SADIE, should be done very, very soon. The first 2/3 is finished and to my awesomely supportive beta readers. The last 1/3 is in the polishing stage. I’m at mile 25 baby. I’m so excited to get this book to all of you. I love it. I hope you do, too!

As I finish it up, I’m going back through all the writing tips I’ve learned through the years. Here’s one:

Writing Tip 1: Keep your readers reading by ending chapters at the climax of a scene, not the resolution

.

The goal of an author is to keep the reader reading. We’ve all started books and never finished. Heaven forbid our readers do that with our masterpiece, right?

So keep them reading. End with a cliffhanger.

Every chapter.

Every time.

TV shows, especially dramas, go to commercial right at the height of intensity. Even in reality shows, the music will build to a dramatic swell, and then BAM! You’re watching a Geico commercial. 

They do that so you don’t leave. So you don’t get distracted. So you don’t forget in those two minutes of commercials how much you really love that show.

The human race as a whole has severe ADHD. We have the attention spans of gnats.

You might be asking, “How do I end my scenes without chapter breaks then?”

You can do the classic three-star break between scenes. Like this…

***

Readers are less likely to put down a book after this kind of break than a full chapter break. However, it’s still bookmarkable. (If that wasn’t a word before, it is now.)

Or…

In the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, she rolls one scene into the next without any breaks. She’ll even skip days with just a simple transition sentence. I don’t recall seeing any  ***  in her books. She just starts the next paragraph with the next scene.  “Even two days later, Katniss still couldn’t…”

The effect is the reader gets to the end of the chapter, and they really, really, really need to go to bed. But someone’s about to die! How can they possibly go to bed when someone is about to die? They can’t. Not if they care about the characters (a whole different topic).

And there’s no other bookmarkable places because her chapter breaks are the only breaks. So the reader looks like this:


That is awesome writing. That is my goal.

I’m still trying to master this concept. It’s hard to do. But the greatest compliments I’ve received as an author are the ones the sound like this:

“Hey, I started your book yesterday. Thanks a lot,” said with dripping sarcasm. “I was supposed to get all this stuff done, and I ended up staying up WAY too late to finish.”

Ah. Sigh.

That’s the hope.

*Dear Readers: I’m sorry. Authors are mean. We don’t care about your home life. Well, we sort of do. We’re trying to let you escape it for a four or five hours. Or Six. Or ten.*

Though Augustina has been in different stages of writing for nearly three years, I’m just now solidifying the ends of the chapters and trying to smooth all the scene transitions.  My goal is to keep those pages turning.

So that’s writing tip #1.

End your chapters at the height of the scene with a good ole cliff hanger.

The more you do it, the more natural it feels to leave your readers hanging. You’ll instinctively know when it’s time to take a commercial break.

What do you think? 

Do you like the cliff hanger trick? Where have you seen it used well? What do you do when a scene really doesn’t have a spot for dramatic pause? Share your thoughts here.

Other writing tips:

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Author: Rebecca Belliston @rlbelliston

Hopeless romantic and author of CITIZENS OF LOGAN POND, SADIE and AUGUSTINA. Music nerd and composer of RELIGIOUS and CLASSICAL-STYLE music. I live in Michigan with my husband and five kids.

6 thoughts on “Writing Tip #1: Keep Your Readers Reading by Knowing When to End Chapter”

    1. I’ve never read any of his stuff, but I’ve heard they’re good. Maybe there’s a balance between cliff hangers in the dramatic sense, and ending a chapter with your reader just wanting more.

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  1. Dan Brown does that cliffhanger trick to perfection. Even if I hate his story, I keep reading because I can’t stop…unless I’m in the middle of a chapter…but definitely not at the end of the chapter. I think you did a good job with Sadie too with this. Very excited for Augustina…and hoping my husband gets your dad’s book for me for Christmas (I don’t dare buy anything now that it’s December. There is nothing worse than buying something for yourself, and then getting it on Christmas a few weeks later).

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    1. Yes he does. Dan Brown also has short chapters, which is amazing that he can have that many cliff hangers in his novels. It’s probably because he has so much plot. Thanks!! I’m very excited for Augustina to be done. I think I like it–which you know how that goes. After looking at a manuscript for so long, it’s hard to like anything. But I hope it gives the readers some closure on the story. :) How is your hubby on clue-ing into gifts you want? Some are better than others. Mine actually is a great gifter. But I know what you mean on the giving yourself a present you were already getting. Haha. If you get my dad’s book, let me know what you think.

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      1. Well, he made me email him a list…so I hope he clues onto THAT. I didn’t provide links so that he could do it on the internet, but maybe he’ll make it down to the bookstore. I will definitely let you know how I like it…and plan on reading it whether he gets it for me or not.

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