Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Leave 'em wanting more

Yesterday, Vanetta Chapman was nice enough to share her writing process with us. Make sure don't miss the chance to learn from her and to win her best selling novel, A Simple Amish Christmas.

We've talked about how to open our book and what makes a good first chapter. Now let's talk about how we should end chapters.

First of all, I often get asked how long chapters should be. There's really no rule. Just depends on what your book needs for pacing and such. My chapters tend to be between 1,500 and 2,000 words. I don't try for that length, it's just how they come out.

Should chapters have titles? Again, no rules. Mine don't, but many books do. Twilight does, to name a crazy successful example. I actually adore how Stephenie Meyer used minimalist titles ("Complications" "Theory" "Impatience") until we got to Jacob's POV and then titles are things
like, "Waiting for the damn fight to start already" and "Why didn't I just walk away? Oh right, because I'm an idiot." I love how she showed character voice in something like chapter titles.

And Jacob rules, but I digress.

So while length and to-title/not-to-title is totally your call, one thing I think all writers should strive for is the right last line.

The type of line that makes the reader hesitate to close the book.

The type of line that makes the reader think, "Just five more minutes, and then I'll go do something else..."

The type of line that compels the reader into the next chapter.

Achieving the right last line isn't something to be stressed about in your first draft, but there's no reason why you can't at least make an attempt with the understanding that you can edit later.

The right last line will be different for every chapter. Sometimes it'll be pensive:

"She methodically ate a burger she could no longer taste, and slowly convinced herself that she had told him the truth." - The Pact by Jodi Picoult

Or mysterious:

"This much he knew for certain: for every locked trunk, there was sure to be a key." -The River King by Alice Hoffman

Or a revelation:

"No, you don't understand. The man who killed that poor girl, left her there in the trees, it was the same man who killed Hope." - Carolina Moon by Nora Roberts

Or it'll say something about the storyline as a whole. Like:

"And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him." - Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Or, the classic, a cliffhanger of sorts. Like, "And then the light's went out." Or, "Then Jenny heard a sound coming from the other room."

For a first chapter, I'm partial to a last line that says something about the journey your character is about to go on. Like the last line of the first chapter of So Over It is, "I didn't answer, not quite ready to admit that I'd abandoned my fantasies of ever being a good girl." That's a big part of Skylar's journey, and I wanted to establish that early on.

That's all for today. Hope you all have a fabulous Wednesday!


  1. A fun realization I had about this while writing a suspense was that ending a chapter on a good note for the bad guy (in his POV) was the equivalent of ending it with a question for the good guys. When my antagonist is thinking, "Finally, things were going right." that meant that things were NOT going right for the story as a whole. It was a lightbulb moment for me, LOL.

  2. Go Jacob! This makes so much sense.Sierra

  3. I'm not a Twilight fan but Jacob is the BEST! I wish I would have found this blog earlier, you give such great advice!

  4. Glad you found us now, Teddy-Chan :)Happy to see you on here.

    Roseanna, I love it when those kinds of light bulbs go on!

  5. Personally I love Jacob's character. =) He's got a lot of fire in him and I love characters like that.
    (Go figure, I'm not the one that will be out there jabbering and being friendly to everybody haha)
    Cliffhangers are AWESOME, I love it when I read a book and I go "AH! No! you can't stop it there!!" lol

  6. I know you wrote this a long time ago but I just found this blog and the book Perchance to Dream in one of its chapters I was saying to myself after this one I'll go to bed the chapters last line was "Step away from each other or this happy dagger will have a new sheath" so I just had to keep on reading!

  7. Love this. This is how I ended my first chapter:
    The Dictator was pointing the gun at my mother and I watched helplessly as he pulled the trigger.

    What do you think of it?


  8. Wow! I'm going to make the end of all my chapters exciting like this... Thanks