Writing a Novel: Chapter Breaks

Author:
Publish date:

If you are writing a novel for the first time, you'll need to know when and how to end a chapter. Learn about chapter breaks and see examples of some from popular novels in the following excerpt from the book Your First Novel by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb.

novel writing | divide novel chapters

Novels have all different styles of chapter breaks. Some have dozens of short chapters, some have a few huge chapters (often called parts or books), and some have no chapters at all. The chapter break should be placed strategically. If, while constructing your outline, the thought of separating your plot into chapters confuses you or saps your energy, don’t make chapter break decisions yet. Write a first draft of the whole novel, then come back to this section to place your chapter breaks with intention during your rewrite. But if, as you think about your story, the discussion of chapter breaks stimulates your imagination, construct your outline with chapter breaks included.

Take a look at your favorite novels. How did the author break up the story? The most important thing is that at the end of each chapter the reader should be craving the next chapter. Make the reader want to turn the next page. An old-fashioned cliffhanger is not required (though they still work), but tension of some kind is essential. End not where the action lulls but where it is the most dynamic. Give the reader new information right before you cut him off. The following are examples of strategic chapter breaks.

BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY, BY HELEN FIELDING
14 CHAPTERS, 271 PAGES

At the end of chapter “April” Bridget hints that she might be pregnant and then titles the next chapter “Mother-to-Be”—again, we have no self-control. We must read on. It’s especially easy to keep reading Fielding’s novel because the diary entries are often short. Just one more, we tell ourselves. It’s addictive.

LULLABY, BY CHUCK PALAHNIUK
44 CHAPTERS, 260 PAGES

Chapter six: The hero tries a killer poem out on his unsuspecting boss. If it works, the man will be dead before daybreak. Instead of ending the chapter with news of the death, Palahniuk stops right after the hero decides not to try to explain the experiment to his employer.

“We both need some rest, Duncan,” I say, “Maybe we can talk about it in the morning.”

Of course we can’t wait—we have to start chapter seven.

THE PRINCESS BRIDE, BY WILLIAM GOLDMAN
8 CHAPTERS, 399 PAGES

Chapter five: We know one of the characters has spent his whole life trying to track down an anonymous nobleman with six fingers on his right hand. At the end of chapter five another character notices that the man who is about to torture him to death has an extra finger on one hand! It doesn’t matter that chapter five was one hundred pages long, or that chapter six is fifty-nine pages long; we have to turn the page.

Buy Your First Novel now!

plot_twist_story_prompts_without_a_trace_robert_lee_brewer

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Without a Trace

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character leave without a trace.

WDVintage_10_29

Vintage WD: The Truth about True Crime

In this article from July 2000, true crime novelist and former New York Times correspondent Lisa Beth Pulitzer shares with us some key insights for breaking into the true crime genre.

new_agent_alert_barb_roose_books_such_literary_services_adult_christian_fiction_and_nonfiction

New Agent Alert: Barb Roose of Books & Such Literary Management

New literary agent alerts (with this spotlight featuring Barb Roose of Books & Such Literary Management) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.

Grinnell_10:28

Evoking Emotion in Fiction: Seven Pragmatic Ways to Make Readers Give a Damn

Evoking emotion on the page begins with the man or woman at the keyboard. Dustin Grinnell serves up seven straightforward tactics for writing tear-jerking stories that make your readers empathize with your characters.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 546

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a spooky poem.

Richard_Shadowlands

Learn Better World-Building Strategies Through World of Warcraft and the New Shadowlands Expansion

WD editor and fantasy writer Moriah Richard shares five unique ways in which writers can use World of Warcraft to better build their worlds—without playing the game.

Hall_10:27

Seven Tips for Intuitive Writing: The Heart-Hand Connection

Award-winning author Jill G. Hall shares her top tips for how to dive into your latest project head-first.

bearing_vs_baring_vs_barring_grammar_rules_robert_lee_brewer

Bearing vs. Baring vs. Barring (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use bearing vs. baring vs. barring on with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.