Yesterday I ran into the end of a chapter rather unexpectedly.
I typically start with a very rough outline of chapters, just jotting down notes of what I see happening and whose point of view the chapter will be in. (I like to keep to one viewpoint per chapter when possible. Less confusing for the reader.) Beyond outlining, I then like to visualize the action, just letting the characters act as their personalities dictate. I may run a scene in my head several times in different ways, inside different character’s heads, to find what I like best. Then I start writing it.
So yesterday’s chapter I had in my head going to a certain point in the action in one character’s point of view–Elliot’s. And then suddenly as I was writing, I wrote what would be a perfect break point for a chapter. Breaking there wouldn’t change what would happen next, but it would change whose point of view it was in.
So what do you do when this happens?
Listen to the muse. Your subconscious. Your instincts.
You want to listen to your inner voice, whatever you may call it. A good chapter hook closes a chapter but also pulls the ready to turn the page and keep reading the next chapter. This can be a cliffhanger, or it can just be an action, description, or dialogue that leaves the reader with a question that demands an answer. Actually a question isn’t a bad way to end a chapter. Or a revelation that opens up new possibilities.
There may also be the question of chapter length–what is too long or too short? The answer here is whatever length you need it to be, but be aware that longer chapters will feel longer to the reader (like long movies with long scenes you just wish would hurry up) while shorter chapters tend to move readers along. (Have you read Stephen King? He’s a master of the one page chapter or sub-chapter.)
So length again may also determine where you break off things. I used to write longer chapters (in my other pen name) but I’m learning to cut some of the longer chapters in half, and I’m finding it makes it much more fast-paced.
In the end, though, you just want to leave them yearning for more.