Thursday, September 2, 2010

Sept Dare Day 1 - Chapter Breaks

A belated dare update: Yesterday I did as I'd planned. I gathered up Chapters Seven and Eight and split them in a different place. I'm not a big fan of interruptive chapter breaks, but in this case it just seemed right.

Chapter Seven is a transitional chapter. Things happen that change the direction of the characters and story. They have to stop, and gather themselves. At the end of the chapter George makes a phone call to deal with the change in plans (this is from Karla's point of view). And then he turns to Karla and asks a question. This question launches the story in its new direction.

So my experiment is whether that makes it a good place to end the chapter.

My normal philosophy of chapter breaks is that you shouldn't try to manipulate your reader into turning the page. You should trust your reader, and your story, more than that. Yes, you should create anticipation, but not with a club. IMHO, you entice the reader along with promises. And one thing that's very important is that when you make promises, you pay off on them. Which means you have to pay off quickly, especially at first. You need to earn your reader's trust, and then they will follow you eagerly and not by force.

I think this ending for the chapter works as a promise. I'm not withholding the payoff that the reader has been anticipating all chapter long. That tension is pretty much settled.

The problem I see is that the chapter break is mid-scene - so the next chapter starts with Karla's reaction to the question. And since it's Karla, she doesn't actually answer the question, she reacts to the subtext - including what she just overheard of the phonecall before the question. And you want that information fresh in the reader's mind when they start Chapter Eight.

I think it will be okay for the end reader. If an end reader has to put the book down at that point, he or she will either glance ahead when they finish a chapter like that, or they will glance back and refresh their memory when they pick it up again. Critique groups, however, are the extreme test of chapter breaks, because they often read and critique chapters in isolation - maybe taking weeks between reading one chapter and another. It could be a good test of the worst conditions possible for a chapter break such as that one.

And tonight, I hope to get my critiques done so I can freely post both chapters. Then I will turn my attenion to Chapter Nine - in which Sheriff Rosie makes his proper entrance. (He has a cameo in Chapter Seven.)

And with that I will probably finish up my belated "Police as Supporting Characters in the Cozy Mystery" series. Because Sheriff Rosie doesn't fit in any of the categories I've mentioned so far. But I think he plays a common role - but it's one with a lot of variety.


Summer Ross said...

Good luck!

The Daring Novelist said...


Ellis Vidler said...

I don't deliberately break chapters with real cliffhangers, but I try to leave something unresolved. It can be a small thing, even the arrival of a letter that the character hasn't opened. Mostly this is a second-round fix. My first draft chapter breaks are all over the place.