This is something that all writers struggle with as they figure out how to grab the reader’s attention and maintain that interest. But there is reason why chapters should start and end a certain way – they are constructed to grab the reader’s interest, maintain it and keep it sustained throughout the novel.
The opening chapter of your book is always going to be the most important one, because it initially must hook the reader, then the rest of the story needs to be strong enough to captivate them. The end of that first chapter should then end in a way that entices the reader, it makes them pay attention or it teases them enough to turn the page and keep reading, because they simply have to know what happens next.
The hard part is to repeat this formula for almost every chapter.
That may seem a lot, but there’s a simple reason behind it. Writers do it because they must tease and tantalise the reader at every opportunity. The more they can provoke and evoke, the more interest they garner from the reader.
Generally speaking, each chapter is usually chronological – they chart events in order and so each time a new chapter starts, the writer has to lure the reader somehow. This is done my making the opening lines of the next chapter really interesting. How do they do that?
It depends on how the preceding chapter ended. Was there a revelation; did some big secret come out? Was the main character in mortal danger from a seemingly inescapable situation? Did something terrible happen?
Whatever it is, the next chapter is the natural continuation and so writers either get straight to the heart of the action and open moments after the last chapter. They use dialogue or description to catch the attention of the reader. But whatever the next chapter, it must be interesting enough for the reader to carry on reading.
The ending of a chapter plays more of an integral role. It’s an invite for the reader to read on. This can be anything, but it needs to lure, it needs to be interesting enough for them to continue. Think of it as a mini cliffhanger. These work well because almost always something unexpected happens to the main character.
The cliffhanger can be anything - it could take the shape of a huge revelation, which throws the main character into an emotional state. It might be that a truth is uncovered; the main character learns something which changes the dynamic of everything. Or it might be the main character makes a decision – perhaps a terrible one...or it could also be that the he or she is thrown into a terrible situation with no apparent means of escape. The stakes are high, the danger is imminent…
And that means the reader has to find out what happens next.
The next chapter should never cheat the reader. Don’t give them a cliffhanger where the main character runs from some kind of danger and she hears a noise and screams, thinking she’s about to be killed…and the next chapter shows that it’s a fox making the sound, which scurries off into the night. This stuff doesn’t stick and the reader won’t thank you for it. Don’t contrive; it does nothing for the story’s integrity.
The subsequent chapter to a cliffhanger should always follow. In other words, it follows the events. So if your main character runs from some kind of danger and hears a noise and screams, thinking she’s about to be killed, then the next chapter could start by showing how she evades the danger by thinking on her feet, or perhaps opens with her standing over a figure…
It’s a simple concept: Tease and reveal. Tease and reveal.
This is the case as the story moves towards its climax, where things become progressively more difficult for the protagonist, and writers often throw in one more big surprise twist at the end to ramp up every last ounce of tension and excitement and suspense. And it’s that magical ingredient suspense that really makes a story put readers on the edge of their seats. It’s all about uncertainty.
Will the hero survive the perilous fire? Will the revelation change everything? Will the story change dramatically after what has happened? What happens next?
The reader will just have to turn that page and find out…
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