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6 Tips on How to Start the Next Chapter
Avid readers and writers alike know the exact origin of the line, “Call me Ishmael.” The opening lines of books garner a great deal of attention in academic discussions, but how many remember the opening line of chapter 23? In the grand scheme of academic discussions, the first line of a chapter will never be considered, but in the mind of a reader who is turning pages in your novel and devouring every word, it makes an enormous difference.
Starting your next chapter should be as important to you as the opening line of your novel, because it dictates the flow and tempo of the next scene in the same way the opening line sets the tone of the entire book. Below are six tips on different ways to purposefully begin the next chapter of your book or novel, which will continue to keep your reader engaged.
#1 Start with External Action
Send a bullet past the head of your protagonist. Have the moonlight reflect off the plunging knife blade. Have a twig snap on the other side of the tombstone where your hero is hiding. Beginning with some action that is external to the character you are introducing hurls your reader into the next scene rather than having him or her just wander in.
#2 Start with Internal Emotion
You can start with an internal emotion to which your reader can relate in order to open a new chapter as well. After saying that, keep in mind the adage, “show, don’t tell.” Do not start a chapter by writing, “I was terrified.” Instead, start it by writing, “My heart was thundering in my chest while I fought to keep the scream in my throat from escaping.” Drawing instant sympathy to the coming scene is a great way to start a chapter.
#3 Start with Dialogue
One of the most famous opening lines of a novel is a single word. “Tom!” That is the opening line to Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. From that single word, the tone of an entire book jumps out at you. Snappy, revealing dialogue is one of the best ways to open a new chapter and bring the reader right into the action. It is even more effective if it involves conflict. Dialogue should become your “go to” opening if you are ever in doubt, but be careful about overusing it.
#4 Completely Change the Tone
If you finished the previous chapter with high action or with a cliffhanger, one of the best ways to open the next chapter is to smooth things out and start climbing another hill, like on a rollercoaster. If you have multiple points of view in your story, switch to an entirely different view point, utilizing a completely different tone from where you left off in the last chapter. By leaving your readers hanging while you develop alternative story lines, you keep them from losing interest.
#5 Mix It Up
If you want to lull your reader to sleep, use the same opening for every chapter. Let’s face it, being predictable is boring. That doesn’t mean that you should mechanically alternate from one type of opening to another. Instead, you should just be conscious that you are becoming predictable and consider a different way of opening your next chapter instead of going to dialogue for the fifth time in a row. Be creative and mix it up a bit.
#6 DO NOTS
There are at least two definite “thou shalt nots” to keep in mind when you are considering a chapter opening. Never start with a back story. Starting with a back story is like sitting through a lecture in an algebra class; just don’t do it. Never start with someone quietly awakening with the birds singing and sunlight peeking through the window. If you have to awaken someone in your story, have them screaming and their heart pounding or have them smelling, tasting or hearing something which confuses them, but don’t use a tired cliché.
No matter how you open up your next chapter, be conscious of what you are doing. Opening lines to chapters are what controls the tempo and flow of your book or novel. Drawing your reader in and keeping them engaged is best accomplished by purposefully choosing how you want your readers to react as they enter into the next scene.
Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Bil Howard