So you can read my books

Sunday, February 2, 2014


This shadowy nemesis of your novel lurks in plain sight.

I have talked of the importance of where and how to end your story and how it even tells you where to begin your tale:

I have spoken of the deadly crossroads of your novel: the middle

But if you ignore the Blindspot of novels, you will fail in your writing a page-turner and a best seller.

Ever ridden an Old West stagecoach?

Six horses lurch against their collars in union, traces snap taut, metal fastenings clink and the stage leaps into motion.
You feel the coach pitch backward and then roll forward as the Concord gets underway.  If you are over the wheels there is a pitch and sway that can get you sea-sick.
In the other seats there is a violent thumping over rough ground.  Suddenly the stage violently pitches forward and jerks backward.
You brace your feet and clutch the armrest or the arm of the passenger beside you. But as the coach gradually steadies, you relax. The wheels have bounced over a deep rut that runs across both tracks of the road. 
Then, one wheel hits a gopher hole.  There goes your neck jamming into your shoulders and your bladder ramming into your sinuses.
Imagine hours of that.
That is what it is like when a reader is the victim of crude chapter transitions. 
Many lurches in a row, and you will lose the reader or at least blunt her enjoyment of the ride you worked months on.
Chapter Transitions

How a chapter ends should entice the reader to turn the page and move on. End on a climax or major "oh no!" moment,

and start the next chapter in a new location or time, and your reader might wonder what the heck they missed.
Think of chapter endings as a hand off. One ends, and it gives you the baton to run with the next idea.
  • What do you want readers to take with them?
  • What do you want them to wonder or worry about?
  • What are you teasing them with?
If you can't answer these, then maybe your chapters are just ending, and not moving the story forward.

You might also think about:

  • What mood do you want the reader to carry into the next chapter?
  • How are you manipulating the tension or pacing?
  • What themes might be continuing?
  • How will this transition feel to the reader?
These are also good things to think about for going from paragraph to paragraph.
Moving from thought to thought and line to line takes more finesse, and this will affect how the story reads.
How the narrative flows.
A big factor here is your stimulus/response. One thought leads to the next. One actions triggers another. Even if you segue into another idea, something made you do it.

If your paragraphs are filled with details that don't actually relate it can feel aimless.
Some things to ask:
  • Does every paragraph have a point?
  • Are there extraneous details that are shoved in because they "have" to be there?
  • Are you working too hard to force an idea or line in where it doesn't belong?
  • Are your lines leading the reader somewhere?
  • When you change ideas, is there something that triggers that idea or does it just change?

 How did we get here?

Change in location or time without letting the reader know you've moved. This can also be confusing if you jump ahead in time, but aren't clear how much time has passed. Try informing the reading about the shift, either at the end of one scene or the beginning of another.

 Get there already
Too much time spent showing the transition.
Travel is a common problem area for this type,
and you show your character moving from one place to another, and often describe everything they see along the way.
In fact, this is sometimes the only reason
why you have them travel.
It's just an excuse to describe the setting. Try breaking the scene and just moving to when the next thing happens.
Hyperventilation and Cliff-hangers

If every chapter ends with a  physical cliff-hanger, soon your poor reader will suffer from hyperventilation.

Think bicycle chain -- each link runs smoothly into the tooth of the next spoke and the next. 

Listen to my END OF DAYS ...
(PLEASE!  only a little joking there)

Don't believe in them?  J K Rowling did.  I used them to end my chapters with a bang or ironic humor. 
In it, the Turquoise Woman chides brutish National Guardsmen that they failed to notice the beauty of yesterday's dawn as they rushed through life.  Now, they would never see another. 

And the Turquoise Woman speeds time all around them until they wither to ashes before her.  When McCord arrives and asks what happened to the invading Guardsmen, a street woman laughs, "They rushed through life." 
End of chapter.


For several chapters to avoid reader hyperventilation, I blended a chapter's last words into the first words of the next.

 In Chapter 13: A GOOD TIME WAS HAD BY NONE, I ended it this way:
Victor sighed as he faded away, ‘And a good time was had by none.’
As pale as I had ever seen him, Samuel turned to Magda.  “What just happened here?”
Magda, looking as stunned as I felt, rasped, “I do not understand.”
 “I do not understand,” muttered Maxine for well over the hundredth time.
She might have become family with her defending Becca, but family could still be immensely irritating.  And Maxine was excelling in being irritating. 

I ended Chapter 14 and blended into the next this way:
The two Hellhounds chuffed as one.  The students slowly backed into the courtyard of St. Marrok’s.  I spotted Skeggjold glaring at me far in the back.
I stiffened as I heard Victor whisper in my mind.  ‘Don’t sweat it, Alice.  The first day of school always sucks.’
 Becca yelled over the roar of the fan and its engine.  “I just want you to know, Trish, the first day of school sucked!”
We were half-way back to Meilori’s.  Toomey was taking his time, flirting with Trish.  Higgins was rolling her eyes at the sight.  Maxine just seemed to be having the time of her life, the winds blowing back her brown hair.
I did similar echoing of chapter titles at the end of chapters with blending the last words of one chapter into the first words of the next.
It makes for a smooth transition. 
What do you think?
What tricks do you use for smooth chapter, scene, and paragraph transitions?
"It appears that every step we made towards liberty
has but brought us in view of more terrific perils."
—from Woodstock, one of the Waverly novels of Sir Walter Scott, born on this day in 1771
Please stay in school:


  1. Like a lot of writers, I struggle with endings -- even when I plot them out. Maybe deep down, I don't want the story to end. Always room for a sequel, right? Good post, Roland.

  2. I agree, chapter headings are important. I like a little map of where I'm heading. As for endings, I find them elusive at times, even if I outline.

    Maybe Milo is right.

    Check email, review is done and will be up soon, if the Blogger gods are willing.

  3. Milo:
    I try to have the ending in mind first. It helps to have a horizon to shoot for. But you're right: often the ending changes in mid-novel for me. I always try to a jumping off point for a sequel. Like you, I don't want the story to end! Thanks for enjoying this post! :-)

    Endings are elusive. And sometimes the one you had planned no longer fits -- even JK Rowling just said in an interview with Emma Watson that she now realizes that Hermoine should have ended up with Ron.

    In fact, while I was reading them as they were being written, I envisioned something like that happening with Ron turning bitter and betraying Harry to Voldemort in the last novel.

    Thanks for the review! You're a great friend! :-)

  4. I love chapter headings. The first three books I wrote had them, and each time I got feedback about potential publication, I was asked to remove them. I imagine it has to do with word count, but what do I know.
    Great post. I remember feeling like I should rearrange the Tad Williams' Dragonbone Chair series chapters to follow character threads because, in a Tolkienesque way, he'd jump from story to story.

  5. Erin:
    Like D.G., I always thought of chapter titles as teasers for things yet to come.

    If our prose all blends together with the next author's, we will fade into the background.

    I think you are probably right about the Dragonbone Chair series. We should make things easy on the reader to follow the characters and plot.

    I'm really glad you enjoyed this post. If any author ever hits big with chapter titles in adult fiction, watch everyone do it! :-)

  6. Love the idea of using chapter headings. The one you used also to end the chapter was terrifically *snort*-rific. "They rushed through life." Lolz. That was great. :D And thanks for popping 'round my blog, too.

  7. I'm having some probs with the internet and/or windows vista, so excuse me if this is my second response.

    You post leads me to realize that my bladder has been ramming my sinuses for quite some time. Transitions either come easily for me (I don't even think about them) or they are forced. I need to re-read this post and strive for a middle ground. Thanks, Roland.

    Take gentle care, my friend.

  8. Unless writing a short story, I don't write with an ending in mind. In fact, if an ending presents itself, I'll change up the storyline enough that the ending is no longer viable. I do everything I can to make sure my stories aren't predictable, although I do use Snyder's beats for story structure.

    Since my POV characters often change between chapters, I make the transitions intentionally jarring. I want the reader to be alerted to the switch. However, I never have more than one POV character per chapter. I think maintaining a single voice per chapter helps keep the reader vested. In my present WIP, one of the POV characters suffers from flashbacks. The story is written in third person past tense, but the flashbacks are all written present tense because she's reliving them in the moment. Maybe I'm just contrary. :)

    VR Barkowski

  9. Zoe:
    I always like visiting your blog. I like your sense of humor -- I guess we share similar ones! :-)

    Go with your instincts -- they will seldom lead you wrong.

    Sorry that blogger has been a bad boy with you today! :-(

    Roger Zelazny wrote a book, DOORWAYS IN THE SAND. Each chapter ended with a cliffhanger but the following chapter started some hours later -- and you had to piece together what happnened. I stuck with the book but that trick ruined an otherwise fine book for me.

    You must write true to your instincts. I feel that anything that jars the reader takes her out of the story.

    Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway both chided authors who took readers out of the flow of the story.

    That I know the ending does not mean that the reader will, and as I said: the endings sometimes change entirely in the middle of my novel or towards the end.

    MOMENTO was a excellent film that played with the audience's perspective. Have fun with your novel -- it is yours after all.

    As always, an engrossing comment. :-)

  10. I think it's all about process and the way our minds function. Every writer has methods that work for them. John Irving's books surprise on every page, yet he outlines every detail of his stories from beginning to end before ever putting pen to paper. He can see no other way to write a novel and is suspect of those who don't write this way (which has always struck me as funny).

    I think it's all about process and the way our minds function. Every writer has methods that work for them. John Irving's books surprise on every page, yet he outlines every detail of his stories from beginning to end before ever putting pen to paper. He can see no other way to write a novel and is suspect of those who don't write this way (which has always struck me as funny).

    We may have different working definitions of jarring, Roland. For me it's not taking the reader out of the flow of the story, it's reaching out a hand grabbing the reader and pulling him or her in deeper.

    VR Barkowski

  11. VR:
    Certainly every writer's mind is different and so his approach to his or her novel is different. I am hardly an expert on how to write a novel, considering my lack of sales. Not one this month. Ouch!!

    I just read the masters and take from them what seems logical and run with it. Sorry, masters, obviously I am the Peyton Manning of historical and urban fantasy!

    You must write as your heart and instinct direct, of course. Thanks for coming back for a fun conversation. I'm off now on the epic adventure of doing my laundry in a galaxy not too far away. :-)