After reading the very first draft of a novel that I let people read, my cousin said to me, “She falls asleep a lot. Too much.” My cousin did give me credit because there were a lot of things going on in her dreams. She was talking to dragons, fighting the villain and almost dying in her dreams that were real. How could I have the exciting dreams if she didn’t fall asleep?
Well, I worked around it. I made her more active in hooking up the telepathic bonds herself instead of being a victim to the mental weakness of sleep. Making a character more active is always a win. But I failed to see a big part of the sleep problem. In fact it took me several more books to realize what I was doing wrong: ending chapters with the characters falling asleep.
Particularly in romances, my characters fall asleep after marathons of sex. At the end of the chapter. Which is the perfect place for a reader to set the book down and take a nap or go to bed.
Don’t give your reader an opportunity to set the book down. If your character is going to fall asleep, or gets knocked out or run over by a freight train, do not end the chapter with your character going unconscious. Sleep is boring. Carry it to the next moment of tension and then break for a new chapter.
You have to maintain pressure on the reader to keep reading.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about by an author who I think is a master of the page turner: Simon Green. This is the end of a chapter in his book From Hell with Love:
“Hush,” I said. “Sleep. Everything will seem clearer in the morning.”
It seemed only moments later when we were both awakened by a thunderous knocking on my bedroom door. The room was dark. I looked at the glowing face of the clock beside the bed; it was a little short of four in the morning. Someone was still pounding on my door and yelling my name. I turned on the light, pulled a dressing gown around me, and went to the door. It wasn’t locked, but even in an emergency a Drood’s room and privacy were sacrosanct. I pulled the door open and there was Howard, Head of Operations. His face was gray with shock and his eyes were wide. He looked like he’d been hit.
“What is it?” I said.
“You have to come with me, Eddie, you have to come now!” he said. “The Matriarch’s been murdered.”
It might have seemed natural to end the chapter where they fell asleep together, but it was so much better to carry it on until someone shows up at the door to tell them their boss has been murdered.
How do you end your chapters? What tricks do you use to make the reader read the next one?
any climactic points where you’re not sure what will happen next. Say, someone falling down a mountain, making a confession, walking into a courtroom, entering a party, being asked a tough question…the list goes on and on
Yes! It’s so hard to do chapter after chapter but necessary.
I find this hard sometimes, too, because it’s not a logical stopping point for your brain. It’s almost like you have to retrain yourself from: “what is the natural place to end the chapter?” to “what ending point would drive the reader most crazy?”
Yeah, I had a whole comparison to music in the post that I deleted. But it was essentially about movements of a symphony end on a resting tone, so the listener gets a rest. That seems natural. But your right, you have to push forward to a more unnatural stopping point in a chapter.