How to Write a Chapter of a Book – What Authors Need to Know

    elements of style strunk whiteThere isn’t one secret to knowing how to write a chapter of a book – there are many! Here’s what authors need to know about writing chapters – because writing a book is more than putting words to the page.

    Writing a book is about organizing your words into a compelling and interesting series of chapters. Each chapter in a book has to further the plot and keep the reader hooked. After all…

    “A book worth reading is worth buying.” ~ John Ruskin.

    If you want readers to buy your books, you must make sure your chapters do what they’re supposed to do. Here are a few tips for writers…

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    And if writing chapters isn’t your problem but writing books is, read The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. There’s a reason it’s the best book for writers!

    How to Write a Chapter of a Book – What Authors Need to Know

    At first glance, writing the chapters of your book seems easy. But, the more thought you put into it, the harder it gets.

    You find yourself wondering, “How am I supposed to organize all of this content?” If you stick with these simple methods for writing chapters, you’ll increase the chances you’ll book will be read — and enjoyed.

    Write the “purple prose” out of your chapters

    To write chapters that readers can’t put down, start with a compelling hook or opening sentence. First sentences vary in their attempts to interest readers in the paragraph, page, chapter and book. Some first lines use description to build tension from line one. The phrase, “It was a dark and stormy night” from Paul Clifford by Edward Bulwer-Lytton is only part of a first line so memorable it helped define the Gothic genre. Now, it’s a jokey way of indicating someone is using too much purple prose. Even so, the full sentence sets a scene hinting at turmoil and violence:

    “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

    A little long for today’s reader, but the sentence catches the your attention. In other books, first lines get right to the point, drawing the reader in with a (hopefully) intriguing thought. The first line of Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man is simply “I am an invisible man.” When you’re writing a book, never underestimate the importance of hooking your readers when you’re writing even the shortest chapters.

    Write Short and Sweet Chapters to Keep the Pace Lively

    Most books these days have chapter breaks every twelve to eighteen pages. That’s long enough to encompass one or two scenes, but not so long that the reader feels like the next chapter is going to take forever to read. Knowing how to organize a novel and write a chapter isn’t just about providing timely breaks from the material, but to also keep readers reading. If they feel like the next chapter is too long, they’ll put the book down. That’s the last thing writers want!

    Short chapters also help keep the pace of a story from slowing down. This is because you treat each chapter like its own mini-story in editing, and because the reader is reading fast to get to the end of the chapter and find out what happens next.

    Write Each Chapter as a Mini-Story (Baiting the Reel)

    When dividing the scenes of your novel into chapters, think about it terms of small stories. Chapters aren’t unique stories in of themselves, because they connect to the rest of the book. Each chapter contains information relying on details from the rest of the book to make sense. Chapters are structured in a manner similar to a story. Each is given a beginning, a middle and an ending with an opening for the sequel (otherwise known as the next chapter in the book). Practicing writing book chapters this way makes editing easier and helps with the overall plot of the book.

    When writing chapters or mini-stories, don’t forget to consider the arc of the plot. Build the tension in each chapter until you reach the climax and then ease the reader into the next chapter. The great thing about creating your own mini-story is that the ending need only be a few sentences long, and can serve as the lead into the next story for your reader.

    Push Readers Towards the Cliff

    Write each chapter so that a nice little cliff-hanger keeps the reader hooked and turning pages to the end of the book. This hook doesn’t to be a literal cliff hanger, but that’s nice too. At the end of Chapter 12 in Stephen King’s frighteningly tense novel Misery, he keeps readers going with the sentence, “Then the rain came and things changed.”

    Keeping the reader hooked is usually as simple as writing the right line or two. Many authors, like King, foreshadow the events of the next chapter in their last sentences. Others end the chapter in the middle of a tense scene, or cliffhanger so the reader reads on to find out what happened. Some end chapters on a question or mystery, which may or may not be answered in the next chapter. It’s a good idea for authors to mix it up when arranging book chapters to add variety to the overall structure.

    If you’re wrestling with your characters, you may find Writing a Character Profile? 5 Tips for Developing Characters helpful.

    What do you think of these tips on how to write a chapter of a book, fellow scribes? Comments welcome below!

    About the Author:  Hope Hammond is a freelance writer. She specializes in web content creation. She’s also working on her first book, and occasionally posts updates about it at her blog, FEBS.

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    Hope also wrote Got Fiction Characters? How to Use a Character Web to Track Them, here on Quips and Tips for Successful Writers.

    8 Responses

    1. Macauley says:

      Good advice. I like the cliffhanger idea.
      Thank you

    2. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen says:

      I agree, Hausboot, that writing a book or even a single chapter seems impossible. But, if you take it one step at a time — one scene at a time, one chapter at a time — then writing books is easier.

      Thanks for your insight, Phil. The beginning lines are where readers get hooked (or not), which means they could be the hardest part of writing chapters and books!

    3. i think the hardest piece of writing are the beginning lines, because many think those can make or brake any piece of literature

    4. Hausboot says:

      if only it was that easy:) maybe for you this is a piece of cake, because you’re a professional writer, but for the other guys, writing a book, or even a single chapter seems impossible:D

    5. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen says:

      Even writers who love writing don’t find it easy to write! That’s what slays me. Why is it so hard to do something you love so much?

    6. Randy Ingermanson is always taking about Dwight Swain’s concept of MRU’s, or Motivation-Reaction Units.

      Mr. Swain is tough, and in his book Techniques of the Selling Writer, he spares no expense in bashing the author-hopeful’s feelings with his honesty.

      But the man knows what he’s talking about! This post reminded me of the section on MRU’s. They’re tough and take tons of practice.

      But what part of writing (good writing, anyway) is actually easy?


    7. Hope Hammond says:

      Thanks Jenny. Good luck with your writing!

    8. Jenny says:

      Nice article..i’m learning about writing..and that’s useful for me..thanks

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