Friday, May 11, 2012

It’s the Time, BUT is it the Place?

Chapter Setting

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

Well, this woman has been around the block more times than most authors and will tell you what it’s not. The chapter is not endless pages of a well written book that doesn’t allow the reader to rest. The setting is not the quaint coffee shop where you display all your grace and charm as you lay your manuscript into yet another unsuspecting friend’s hands.

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

As you well know, every 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. 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 my first book that had 8,843 good, edited, words. My critique partners 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 stretches.

I didn’t need Beth Anderson’s infamous 2x4 to get the hint.

We went through that longer than life chapter, line by line, scene by scene, to determine the best point to end it and create a new one. 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 to your hero and heroine.

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 $5.00 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 fifteen 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 tossed and turned, twisting the sheets into knots, 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 Monday with Paul Stansfield, an author who pens gripping mysteries. Until then…

Happy writing!

Sloane Taylor


  1. You know I tweeted, you know I shared, but you don't know what else I did...
    Good cliffhanger, eh? Wink.

    1. LOL. Yes, it is.
      Thanks for all your support, Sharon. You're a great friend.

  2. Sloane, I just sent my latest WIP to my editor. It took a while for me to get to this point because when I first started organizing the ms, I used the Lessons Learned from Geese as my kinda-sorta "outline". That turned out to be a major mistake. I ended up with 5 huge sections that took my story apart rather than weaving it together. In the end, I abandoned my less-than-bright idea and went back to a simple outline. Then I was able to pull it together and then break scenes and chapters in to appropriate "hangers". With each novel I write, I learn something new. This one was no different.

    1. Oh, Susan, that must have been awful! You're right, simple outlines are the way to go. No need to make our jobs harder. Glad you were able to get your latest book perfected. Your editor will be happy, too.:)

  3. Thank you for the article. 2 page and 200 page chapters do get out there on some online free books. Still makes me feel like I got ripped off. Now gotta figure out how to get that off my Kindle... Be nice to send the "Author" a .99 cent bill as I will have excerted more time trying to get rid of the mess than they did writing it. :p

    1. Chatty Cupid, I love it! Do send the author a bill, remembering to add in time and trouble costs. lol

  4. Anonymous11:03 PM

    This was a great post, Sloane. I had a real rum go at rewriting scenes to keep my Beta-readers engaged in Stealing Time. In the end,after much trial and error, the protagonist is safe, but I took a risk and didn't answer all of the questions raised in the short tale, i.e., I left them with the the Ledwith Clause, a cliffhanger. Now several people have said, "I want to know what happens!" After all the struggle to make it a better read, those six words are dear to my heart, and a reminder to keep it up in the sequel. Always learnin' something new!

    C.K. Garner

    1. You little tease! But what a great kick off for a series. Glad you like the post, C.k. Thank you for stopping in and posting.