10 Killer Chapter Breaks

10 Killer Chapter Breaks

Chapter breaks are do-or-die territory for novelists. You may be spinning a grand ol’ tale, full of fascinating characters, but if your chapter endings leave readers no reason to turn the page to find out what happens next, all your hard work on the other aspects of your story will be wasted.

Not every chapter needs to end with a cliffhanger, but they do need to encompass a question powerful enough to make the reader crazy to know the answer. This is no easy task, in large part because not every chapter is going to feature huge revelations and startling questions. So how do you mine your story for the tension and conflict that will translate into the most powerful question a reader can ask: What’s gonna happen next?

Following are ten suggestions for turning your blasé endings into killer chapter breaks.

1. Promise of conflict to come.

Example: The hero has just been challenged to a duel.

Inherent Question: Will he survive?

2. A secret kept.

Example: The hero’s partner hides a letter.

Inherent Question: What’s in the confounded letter?

3. A major decision or vow.

Example: The hero swears to avenge his wife’s murder.

Inherent Question: How will he go about it? Will he succeed?

4. An announcement of a shocking event.

Example: The hero’s father dies.

Inherent Question: How did he die? How is the hero going to react?

5. A moment of high emotion.

Example: The hero is enraged by the promotion of an incompetent coworker.

Inherent Question: How will the hero express his anger? Will he experience repercussions?

6. A reversal or surprise that turns the story upside down.

Example: The heroine discovers her long-dead mother isn’t dead at all.

Inherent Question: Where has the mother been all this time? How is the heroine going to adjust to this new paradigm?

7. A new idea.

Example: The hero comes up with a new scheme for defeating the bad guy.

Inherent Question: Will it work?

8. An unanswered question.

Example: “You’re not who you said you were, are you?”

Inherent Question: Is he who he said he was?

9. A portentous metaphor.

Example: A solar eclipse over a battlefield.

Inherent Question: Is this an indication of tragedy to come?

10. A turning point.

Example: The heroine is shipped off to an orphanage.

Inherent Question: What will happen in her new life? How will she adapt?

It’s possible—and even preferable—to use all of these examples in one story. Use a wide variety of chapter breaks to keep your readers guessing. Ending every chapter with a cliffhanger can become monotonous, so don’t feel as if the tension has to be ratcheted to breaking point at the end of every scene. Make sure your readers are left with a question—a reason to know more—and, before they know it, they’ll have read your entire book in one sitting.

10 Killer Chapter Breaks

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Oh, yes that´s true 🙂

    Of course, is experience what teach us how to use them for the best ^^

    Thaks!

    M.

  2. I’m terrible about ending with suspense. It’s fairly easy to end when, say, somebody gets thrown out of a hole in the sky. The atmospheric defenestration concludes the action, so starting with the victim trying to figure out how to survive makes sense.

    Likewise, the last chapter I worked on ended with this: “She had doubts about the eleven names written in blue. She suspected every one of them was an enemy.” That follows your suggestions nicely.

    Where I struggle is things where the action or emotional drama fits into a scene that doesn’t have (what seems to me) a natural break. I was just looking at my chapter breaks and a lot of them end with the resolution of the conflict. Worse, I end the first part with a resolution (a cheerful one at that). I’m going to have to give this some painful thought and pay attention to chapter breaks in my reading more closely.

    Thanks for making me (reluctantly) think about this, Katie.

  3. Like you, I tend to write cohesive, whole, self-resolving scenes in my first drafts. But one thing I do that helps is to avoid dividing them into chapters until *after* I’ve finished the first draft. Then I can consider how to best divide scenes to maintain suspense and to obtain relatively balanced word counts in each chapter.

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  5. I agree that not every scene should end with a cliffhanger. It makes things exhausting. One of my personal favs, when it come to chapters is James Patterson. He shift between chapters too quickly, and keeps the adrenaline rushing so highly, I don’t even realize and I am at the end of the book.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Short chapters are a surprisingly sneaky way to keep readers reading. They forget to look at the clock in between chapters, because they come so quickly–and before they know it, they’ve read half the book.

  6. It is very interesting to write in French if you like, I begin to write a novel about a husband who killed his wife after the sentence, he didn’t want his wife to get divorced. he accused her that she was having an affair with the examining magistrate behind him. After his murder, he was been sentenced to death.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Maybe someday I’ll be able to write a novel in French. I’d better wait and master English first thought. 😉

  7. My first chapter talks about a couple: The husband gets drunk and his wife usually arrives late at home after her work. The husband is disliked by this situation. He thinks that her wife is having an affair with her boss behind his back. So he bits her every time. Sometime he injures her. His wife is afraid of her life, she decides to ask for a divorce because she doesn’t want to be bitten to death.

  8. In my second chapter, the husband is totally irresponsible. He doesn’t do the shopping after coming back to the hospital. When his wife comes back from work, he doesn’t find something in the fridge and her husband wasn’t at home. She goes to the shop in front of their house. She buys bread, cornflakes, butter and milk. After looking at her kids’ homework, she prepares dinner. She ate with her kids. Her husband arrives at midnight. He gets drunk and he told her that he is hungry. When her wife told him that there is no food. He bit her furiously and she went into a coma.

Trackbacks

  1. […] love books like that. A great chapter break is what turns books into those page-turners I can’ t put […]

  2. […] excellent K.M. Weiland suggests several different ways to achieve this in an article on her blog here – both this article and the blog itself are well worth a […]

  3. […] Link:  http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/11-killer-chapter/ […]

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