Sunday, May 5, 2013

Chapter Breaks

I read something once from a multi-pubbed author who said she wrote and edited, and then inserted her chapter breaks last.  This intrigued me. Maybe I am too concerned about my chapters.

I know I need a hook at the end of each chapter to keep a reader turning pages. I also know a reader needs to have just enough information to get glide back into the story after having to put it down to work or sleep.

I also know chapters are trending shorter. In my WIP's first draft, my goal was 5,000 words. In the editing, they are organizing themselves to an average of 1600 words. I'm not having trouble finding a hook--scene breaks work nicely.

I am having a debate right now, where I am in the editing. Here is the end of the chapter:

             After Christina departed, Jeremy said, “Thank you, ma douce. You helped Christina to remember how much she needs to be involved in the affairs of her school.”
            “You care about her,” Angel observed.
            “She is a fine lady, worthy of the highest respect. Much more than le Roi gives her. He is a peacock. Many pretty feathers, but underneath he is just a scrawny rooster.” Jeremy rubbed his hands together and grinned. “Maman says I talk too much. We have the work to do. Interrogate me while I cook dinner.”
Angel hesitated. His cottage was not the proper setting for an interview, but she had a job to do, no matter how distasteful.
“I’m not hungry,” she said. Then her stomach growled loudly.

Here is the opening of the next chapter:

The wall lining the narrow stairs that led to Jeremy’s loft was dotted with dozens of framed play programs and cast photographs. In one, his arm was around the student who played Isolde, and she gazed up at him with an adoring look.
Angel felt a twinge of alarm. Two years ago, she’d mediated a case of inappropriate teacher-student contact. If she accepted Montague’s offer to supervise RISE, she’d have to deal with all sorts of crises. A smart administrator prevented potential problems. “Do you hire a photographer to take these pictures?”
The sound of water gushing into a kitchen sink stopped. “On opening nights,” Jeremy called out. “Parents take very good pictures, too. Look at ‘Arsenic and Old Lace.’ That was our first production.”
Holding her glass of porter, Angel climbed the carpeted steps. Jeremy seemed to bestow the same familiarity on other student actors. This was something to she’d have to monitor, low priority. She turned to go back downstairs and realized she could see into his loft.

Do I need more a detailed setting transition? She's been to his cottage before (in an earlier chapter), so the reader has been introduced to the layout. 
What do you think?


  1. At the start of your new chapter, you could maybe put something about Jeremy cooking (to link it to the previous chapter) and have Angel commenting about the photos before she starts looking at them.

    My chapters average out at about 3K, but I don't really try to make them the same length. In my WIP, they range from 2384 to 4599! I don't think the length matters, but I do try to end each chapter with a 'page-turner'.

  2. I think the setting is fine. Especially since she's already been there and she (and the reader) are somewhat familiar with his place.

    I do try to put chapter breaks in as I go, but often times things get switched around, and then I have to reorganize. My chapters tend to be about 18 to 20 pages (I have no idea of what the word count is.) in my full-length novels. They're shorter in my novellas.

  3. Thanks for the feedback, Paula and Debra!

    Estimating 250 words per page, that's about 4500 to 5000 words per chapter, Debra.

  4. I struggle with one chapter being long-ish and the next one very short. Is consistency important, or doesn't it make any difference?

  5. I wouldn't worry too much about word count per chapter. I've read authors who break their chapters in the middle of a scene to keep the reader hooked. I think you need to break your chapter at the point that feels right and chapter length can vary--that's what helps keep the pacing and flow natural.

  6. I sometimes (often?) break chapters mid-scene for page-turning effect. When I start a chapter, I usually have a vague idea about when and how I want it to end. I tend to write my chapters almost as if they were soap operas, with a dramatic or heart-wrenching twist at the end of them!

  7. A writing instructor suggested not breaking chapters mid scene, but I think it depends on how long the scene is. and what is happening.