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How To Think About Chapter Transitions?
Write Better Now
So lately, I’ve been talking about chapters and transitions. A couple of Mondays ago, I talked a bit about transitions, which was a lead up about chapter transitions. Then I talked about chapter lengths and titles. You can check that out here and here. And this last Monday, I talked about chapter beginnings and endings.
As Janice Hardy wrote on her blog,
“Chapter transitions work in one of two ways. The next chapter picks up right where the previous one ended, or it jumps ahead in time (or back if it's that kind of story).”
So, that’s the first decision you have to make as a writer:
Do you want your chapter to be a continuation or do you want it to be a jump in setting, time, or point of view?
DEFINITION OF A CHAPTER
To make that decision, it’s cool to know what a chapter actually is.
Zara Altair writes,
Chapters are a practical way to break up a novel and create an effective overall story structure. You want your reader to stay with your story for 200 or more pages. Chapters give them a way to take a natural break from reading and come back refreshed and ready for more.
In the classic linear structure, the beginning of the chapter is balanced out by the end. The chapter alludes to the overall progression of the story and ties in the most relevant pieces of information. This is largely what keeps the reader’s interest during the slower parts of the book, and aids in building anticipation for new plot points or chapters.
Chapter breaks help control the pace of your story, and entice readers to continue.
A good way to start thinking about chapter breaks is to realize that the transition between chapters is a lot like the transitions between scenes. It’s the gap between the end of the last scene of chapter a and the beginning of the first scene of chapter b.
But it’s a bigger gap for the reader’s mind. Why? Because instead of just a dinkus or scene break, they see an announcement on the page that tells them that a big transition is occurring.
That announcement is the word “chapter.”
Hardy also has some lovely advice on scene transitions that I’ve screenshot below.
Some really great reasons and uses for making a chapter change or that might indicate that you might want to start a new chapter are these:
It’s a new time of day, of week, of year, of century
It’s a new character’s point of view (POV). This is just the narrator’s perspective in the novel.
It’s a new setting.
It’s the time after something huge (emotionally or plot-wise) just happened.
The chapter break gives a really nice place for an author to tell the reader that the setting has changed or the time period has changed or the point of view character has changed if it’s that kind of story. It helps orient the reader in the story.
Orienting the reader in the story is so important. If a reader is too lost, wondering what is going on, where they are, who is talking, they can give up and not read the book. Since writing a novel is meant to be a communication between the novelist and the reader, this is basically like someone not just hanging up the phone on you, but flinging it across the room, while you’re still talking.
The best idea is to use both format and a transitional sentence or phrase (which I talked about in one of those earlier posts that have links in the first paragraph) to help the reader know what’s going on.
Readers are a bit Pavlovian, right? We’ve all been trained to recognize the jump, the double space, the dingus, to symbolize things. When we put on our writer caps, we can use that training for our own nefarious writing purposes.
The biggest reason you should use format as well as transitional sentences is for clarity. Even though readers don’t consciously recognize it, they have been trained to know a shift in the story is coming when they see an extra space, three centered symbols, or a chapter break. Use that to your advantage.
And those breaks? Those scene and chapter transitions? They are kindnesses to give to your readers. That white space between chapters or scenes allows the reader to sit with your words for a hot second, breathe them in. It allows your story to resonate inside of them and it gives the readers a sign to get ready because things are about to change.
LINKS I MENTION
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