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Ending a chapter in the right (or wrong) spot can be the difference between unputdownable and “I guess I’ll get back to this tomorrow.” Every chapter ending turns the tables on the readers who now have to decide whether to read one more chapter or take a break.
These chapter endings are opportunities, but they can easily become lost opportunities if you don’t make the most of them.
While you’re first drafting, however, deciding where to end a chapter can sometimes be tricky. And when someone on Twitter recently asked me how I decide, it occurred to me I hadn’t really written about it.
I’d kind of glazed over this part largely because the answer is hard to explain—because while I’m first drafting at least, where to end a chapter, for me, is part instinctual and part planning. But even that has changed as my writing process has changed.
When I first drafting in Word, where to end a chapter, for me, was 100% instinctual. When I wrote a line that sounded like it’d be a good hook, I’d hit enter a couple times and start a new chapter. Sometimes this was in the middle of a scene, sometimes at the end—it was a case-by-case basis but what they had in common was that they ended on lines that I hoped would be intriguing enough that readers would want to read on.
When I switched to first drafting to Scrivener, however, my process changed slightly. Before I start drafting at all, I plan out just about every scene and write a quick sentence or two or three summary of what will happen for each scene. While first drafting, I think less about where the chapter will end and more about ending the scene in a way that is interesting and will make readers want to read on. Granted, with the way I have Scrivener set up, the “chapters” are automatically split up by scene, and I further split them up while revising, but it’s often less present in my mind than it was when I wrote in Word.
Sometimes, I’ll write a line near the end of a scene and stop earlier than I expected because I hit a point that would make a perfect chapter ending. Or I’ll break mid-scene while writing because I've reached a great hook. And that stuff is still very much instinctual.
That said, after drafting in Scrivener I’ve done a lot more chapter splitting while revising than I did before—which, actually, I don’t mind because it really forces me to pay attention to my chapter endings and decide where would be the best place to break.
Deciding on chapter endings while first drafting, however, can be a really fluid process, so I’m curious: how do you decide where to end a chapter?
How do you decide where to end a chapter? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)