I am posing a series of questions that I will explore in this Shakespeare titled blog. I just hope it is worthy enough and would be to Shakespeare’s liking.
First, is chapter length important?
Second, how should a chapter begin?
Third, how should it conclude?
Fourth, how many cliffhangers are too much?
As a reader, there are two things that bother and bug me about chapter length. I dislike three page chapters and equally hate thirty page chapters that lack scene breaks. Surely, readers seek substance in each chapter. They also wish not to drown.
Short chapters can be bothersome as they begin and end speedily. It is too quick and many times unattractively abrupt. I say this because cramming a meaningful chunk of plot into minimal amount of pages that accelerates and moves the reader is hard. A true purpose can be challenging to find in a chapter that does not span double or triple the number of pages.
There must include a good, solid reason for the chapter to be that size and contribute a large impact to the book as a whole. If the short chapter appears to not feature a strength of its own, it may be wise to consider having the chapter conclude the previous or begin the following.
A personal goal of mine is to create chapters that add to a ten page minimum. The general size is nor stagnant or too fast.
While chapters should be considered their own, many might ask if chapter length requirements cause forceful writing. I respond to that in the following way; writers have the skill and talent to delicately and meticulously add story details in a considerable number of pages without being repetitive and including unimportant details just to reach a certain number of pages.
But how exactly should a chapter begin? Should it jump into the cliffhanger that was hinted at the conclusion of the previous? Should it change scenes? Better yet, should it progress with another storyline, giving the reader a break, balance, and multiplying suspense?
Writing the beginning of a chapter can be really exciting. The most amount of freedom exists on the first page of a chapter as the main purpose and theme of those pages is introduced. The build-up can be the most fun. In other words, if two friends are planning to meet up in the city, you can have one of them spend their morning in a coffeehouse, writing an article for the newspaper, because journalism is their profession. You can describe the coffeehouse in a cozy and welcoming way, taking notice to the small details that craft the entire scene. You can take a paragraph to describe the girl’s motion of typing as the guy behind her sits alone at the table reading the paper she reports for.
Another idea might be to describe a park in great detail, from an ant’s view and/or aerial view. This part may be described as something really beautiful, but will later act as the setting for a fistfight among a group of boys. While the park is only referenced through adjectives, the reader does not yet realize how important this setting will become. Answers will be given to them later in the chapter, but still acts as a good foreshadowing device.
Free and beautiful, descriptive writing can really draw the reader into the chapter best at the beginning. However, that does not mean the middle and end should be dry of description, but I find the start of a chapter as prime opportunity to really do something extraordinary and extravagant.
When it comes to the end of a chapter, there is often much more to consider. You might wonder if a cliffhanger is necessary or if the end result of a particular problem should be revealed right then and there. To answer these thoughts, question three and four will be combined into one.
Writing is all about balance. Reveal chunks and snippets of information overtime in the story, rather than overloading the reader and yourself since you are the main creator. That being said, cliffhangers are awesome. But ending every single chapter in a cliffhanger without answering any questions the reader might have is going to become mundane quick.
Readers read because they want to be entertained, they want to be in the midst of tension, and of something new. They want to be tricked and they want to also receive answers. Answers should be considered the reward and the big, gigantic THANK YOU for them sticking with the story.
Using too many cliffhangers will simply send them on a wild goose chase only to find themselves getting absolutely no where. It’s not fair to them and will not shed a positive, graceful light onto you as the author. It’s kind of cruel. Cliffhangers add suspension, but should not be used as an excuse to trick and fool.
So, feel free to end chapters with cliffhangers, leaving the reader with sheer eagerness, but do so in small doses. Do not rely on cliffhangers to conclude every chapter you write.
If you plan to end a chapter absent of a cliffhanger, give the reader answers. Give them comfort in knowing this character is safe, even if it is just momentarily, make them aware a character has just done something they had once feared, let the audience know the protagonist is feeling a sense of ambition or even a sense of gratitude.
Once again, writing is all about balance, it is sort of like a diet or a mix of work and play.
How long will your next chapter be?
How will you start your next chapter?
How will you conclude your next chapter?
What cliffhanger will you use or what answers will you feed your audience next?
I encourage you to reflect and consider these questions in terms of your current book and even your next several publications.