So you can read my books

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


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


  1. Hi Roland...all of this takes time to perfect. I read a great hint each scene transition, ask yourself...'but', not 'and then'. This is one way of throwing obstacles in your character's way, and hopefully not becoming boring.

  2. Denise:
    Great hint. Stephen King said it this way: "If your characters are having a good time, then your readers aren't!" :-)

    Thanks for visiting and staying to chat.

  3. Dividing my manuscript into chapters is the very last thing I do. That helps me to find natural and logical breaks.

  4. Alex:
    Everyone has their own style. But I believe since chapters are going to be there in my novel, they might as well be part of my bicycle chain that smoothly moves the story forward:

    The chapter titles tease and provide ironic humor while the blending of one chapter into another binds the novel into a whole.

    Movies have it much easier -- the camera just fades away. :-)

  5. Someone once said it was "weak" to end at a major "oh no!" moment. I think I'll trust what you've written because it makes more sense.

  6. I write in chapters from the beginning, but not necessarily in chronological order. When I'm stuck, I write scenes, and designate which chapter they will be in. I use whatever works for the story.

  7. Denny:
    Good meeting you! :-)

    J E:
    With all advise it is wise to follow what makes sense to you, for that is the only way the writing will seem natural to you and to the reader.

    I sometimes go forward to a scene in the middle of the book if an early scene is giving me fits ... just like you. :-)

  8. I didn't use chapter headings on my first novel, but when I rewrote as a serial I did.

    I'm not a big fan of cliffhangers, although sometimes they're organic to the story and that's fine. I try to make each of my chapters a little novel in itself, with it's own arc and central conflict. But I make a point of always ending with one or two pressing questions so that the reader will hopefully read on to discover the answers. That is, should anyone ever read my work. LOL!

    VR Barkowski