Chapter Construction: Leave the Reader Wanting More

Sunday, October 08, 2017
It’s late. Really, really, late. Your family gave up on you long ago and went to bed. Maybe you joined them, but are still awake, the book bathed in the soothing glow of your phone’s flashlight. You’re lying down on your stomach, and your neck hurts from keeping it upright for so long. Your hands are tired, even though you’ve made a valiant attempt to prop the book up against your pillow, and you need to go to the bathroom but you’re ignoring the urge. One more page until the last chapter. You’re so close. And then you read the last sentence and . . . no! It’s a cliffhanger. The only way to fix the problem is to keep reading, so you take a deep breath and plunge ahead.

If you’re a book person – and I suspect you are – this scenario is one with which you are more than familiar. That moment when you reach the end of a chapter and expect to put the book down, but find yourself unable to let it go, is an incredible phenomenon. Oddly enough, I never really thought about this moment when I first started writing. I knew I liked the book. I knew it had sucked me in – a “page turner” if you will. But I never really thought about why.

That is, until I finished a chapter of my work in progress one day, and felt satisfied.

Then, it hit me: I wasn’t creating the “can’t put the book down” feeling that I love in my favorite books. My novel wouldn’t make someone’s neck hurt late at night, or keep them up way past their bedtime. My writing was solid, but I wasn’t building tension at the end of my chapters the way I needed to. My chapters were long and encompassed a clear beginning, middle and end.

I set out to fix this problem. First, I shortened my chapters, making sure to leave mini cliff-hangers at the end of each one. I moved the resolution of my chapters to the beginning of the next chapter, then followed those resolutions with another source of conflict.

The result? A story my readers wouldn't - and couldn't - put down.

If you haven’t taken a hard look at your chapter construction, I highly recommend it. It can make all the difference. Just picture your readers tired, squinting beneath the light of their phone’s flashlight, desperate for more. Then smile.

Bethany Masone Harar is an author, teacher, and blogger, who does her best to turn reluctant readers into voracious, book-reading nerds. Check out her blog here and her website here.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Beth--Thanks for this post. I don't know how my vignettes end. Probably NOT with the reader wanting more.

I guess I need to look at them?

Angela Mackintosh said...

Great reminder, Beth! I think cliffhangers are also why we end up binge-watching Netflix series...we HAVE to find out what happens. :)

Beth said...

Gland the advice was helpful! And I agree about Netflix - I'm a binge-watching addict.

Mary Horner said...

I needed this as I rework my novel. Thanks for the reminder!

Unknown said...

Recently read your book Voices of the Sea.... will there be a sequel???? !!!! Please!!

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