By popular request, I shall devulge on this topic. But before I do, let me preface it with an important statement. Everything I'm writing here is NOT the truth, like, I will repeat, it's not, people! I'm a very very green writer, only started writing last year full time, so the things I share here are the things that work for me. They might be completely off the wall and totally immature and very much against the grain of big important writers. There are a gazillion more writers out there better than me, more experienced than me, and such. With this in mind, everything you read (if you read it it all, that is), please take with a grain of salt. I'm sharing my little triumphs, things that worked for me. They might work for you, they might not! The ony thing I know is that I try to simplify my little successes to the point where they seem very easy, to hopefully help you, if you happen to be blocked in that particular spot (that's what I do for myself, simplify things in my head until they are so simple that I'm not scared anymore). If it's not helping, please, throw hot potatoes at me! I don't mind. Just wanted to warn you, that's all. Because I'm about to share with you how I cut up my chapters, and this might not be how it's typically done, but it works for me.
The opening of the chapter is the summary of the chapter. Whereas I have sort of adopted the guideline on the opening of the novel being the summary of the whole novel, going as far as trying my opening sentence to be the summary of the whole novel, in chapters I sort of summarize the whole chapter in the first paragraph. I try to give enough of the space and time and who does what to sketch out what's about to happen, like, setting a stage, then for the rest of the chapter I simply expand on it. For example, right now I'm writing 3rd draft of Rosehead, and the current chapter I'm working on is called The Talking Heads. Oh, wait, I also try to name my chapters in the way that will tell the reader what they're about, like mini stories. Anyway, here is a litle excerpt, where I set the stage but I don't exactly mention what will happen, only hint on it, so that the reader will want to keep reading (hopefully), because in the rest of the chapter I expand on it. So, here is the opening of The Talking Heads:
"Thud. Lilith heard something heavy fall and something round roll. Again. And again. It took her sleepy brain several minutes to process this information, before her eyelids finally fluttered open. Moon shone into the room, coloring it silver. The sweet stink of the garden acquired an almost metallic tang. Someone breathed laboriously outside, performing what must’ve been a strenuous physical task. Lilith rolled off the bed and crouched by the window, peering from behind the curtain. What she saw froze her to the spot. She didn’t even feel Panther brush her legs and plop his head on the windowsill."
Start your chapter as close to the end as possible. This is kind of my personal style, though I think I have heard this advice applicable to novels, starting as close to the end as possible. Also, in my screenwriting days, I remember reading about starting in the middle of the action. So, with chapters, I like to dive right into the meat of things. Again, remember, this is what works for me, and not necessarily what would work for you. But at the beginning of the chapter you want to grab your reader. You might have the luxury to slow down a little in the middle, but not much. You have to keep the reader turning the pages, and for that the reader needs to know what the hell is happening. If it's ot clear what's happening, you will lose the reader, and you can't afford that. Every page is precious, every sentence is a hook, at any moment the reader might get interrupted and not get back to your book at all. Treat your chapters like mini stories, with their own beginning, middle, and end, and the hook and the payoff. I found that naming chapters has really helped me define what each chapter is about. In SIREN SUICIDES, my first trilogy, I named chapters according to places where things happened, and it didn't work as well as it's working in ROSEHEAD, where I name chapters according to what happens in them. I stole this idea from Harry Potter.
End your chapter on a cliffhanger. This is my favorite way of ending chapters. Lead that mini story to some sort of a conclusion, then throw in a detail that just begs for a continuation of the story, and stop right there. Bam! You hooked your reader, the reader wants to know what the hell happens next. Well, sometimes I cheat and do a quieter ending of the chapter, when I know I have built enough suspense in the book overall so that I can get away with it, which typically happens closer to the middle. Somebody told me in the past that my approach is a classic one. Whatever they meant, I don't know, classic in what sense? I just like clear beginnings, middles, and ends, maybe that's why I do this, I don't know. But I can't simply cut a story without somehow wrapping it and throwing in a wrench. Here is the ending of chapter 4 of ROSEHEAD, called Through the Arbor, so you can see how I was leading up to chapter 5 (hopefully!):
“Oh, don’t mind her.” As usual, Lilith held her true opinion to herself. “Mothers and daughters historically get on each other’s nerves. She’s just worried about me. Listen, let’s talk about solving the mystery… Let’s talk about… What was it I wanted to talk about… Was it the garden’s mystery… no, it was the mystery’s garden…” She mumbled some more and soon drifted off into dreamless sleep, not knowing that she’ll be rudely awakened in a few hours by wet chopping noises, as if someone was chopping off something with an axe."
In general, the longest chapters I've had were 20 pages, about 5K words each. The shortest 7 pages, about 1.4K words each (I calculate it at about 215-250 words per page). I find that writing shorter chapters works better for me, also because I'm not writing as much fluff anymore. Will it be the same in my future books? Don't know. So far its flowing, and I let it flow as it wants to. Was this helpful to you? Yes? No? Also, what would you like me to blog about next? I got an email from a reader, asking me to blog about naming novels. When to do it, how to do it, etc. I've written a post on how to pick a title for your novel, but I haven't written on when I do it. I shall blog about that next, unless there will be any other suggestion. Happy writing!