Writing professor and multiply-published author Deborah Chester's
recent post "Chapter Structure"
provides a look at how chapter lengths and their content have evolved in modern books, and offers advice on what to put in a chapter. She writes:
"Don’t worry about whether you have a one-scene chapter, a one-sequel chapter, or a combination of the two types of dramatic units.
Instead, think about a chapter as a division of story that opens with a grab for the reader’s attention and builds to a hook at its conclusion."
While reading the work of her former student Jim Butcher
, I noticed he frequently places chapter ends on a scene disaster
. This practice has two apparent effects. First, think of your own book-reading. Ask yourself if you've ever had a thought like this: "It's late, I should go do X, so I'll just bookmark this at the end of the chapter I'm on. It's not far. I'll stop then. At the end of the next chapter." Jim Butcher thwwwwwarts (this is like regular 'thwarts' but more vigorous) this intent by creating an emergency you must see resolved. You can't put the book down there
, you have
to know what happens. (This is why I think folks raged at the end of Changes: they had more than a year to wait for the other shoe to drop after reading the scene disaster that answered the book's question about whether the protagonist would survive ocnflict with the forces arrayed against him. While Jim Butcher likes to claim Changes wasn't technically a cliffhanger – it did
answer the story question – Butcher's description of Changes
, Ghost Story
, and Cold Days
as a sort of middle-of-the-series turning-point trilogy helps explain why people struggled while waiting to get the different parts of the three books: they were examples of scene disaster occurring at a book's end, and made people want to turn pages they hadn't seen yet.) The truth is, you *can* find places to set down a Jim Butcher book. Just don't look for it at the end of a chapter. (Besides: you bought the book. Indulge yourself and just finish it already!)
The practice of closing the chapter on a scene disaster also draws attention
to the disasterous nature of the scene end. There's no text immediately after the chapter-ending scene-disaster text: while readers turn from the rest of the blank page, those last words echo in their minds. It's much more effective than mere boldface text to get people to notice an idea, dwell on it a moment, and encourage them to roll it about in their heads.
I'm looking forward to Deb Chester's forthcoming The Fantasy Fiction Formula