A-ha! There it is!

discovering something in a friend's backyard
discovering something in a friend's backyard

“I help you,” he said.

“Thanks, but I’m fine,” I said. We walked along the ice-covered sidewalk in the dark. I didn’t know him. I stepped on an ice patch and spun. My oversized backpack pulled me down to one knee. He helped me up, picked up my backpack, and slung it over his shoulder.

“I buy you coffee,” he said.

“No,” I said. “It’s late, and my boyfriend is waiting for me to call.” I continued walking and he walked next to me. It was after 10 pm.

“One coffee. Come with me.”

I used a Bulgarian expression that was supposed to end any request. “I want, I want, but I can’t.” I’d been traveling for hours back from Athens were I’d spent the New Year. In my backpack were dirty clothes, souvenirs, and Christmas presents.

He trotted alongside me. “Tea. Come have tea.”

Walking to my apartment building didn’t seem wise, but I didn’t know where else to go, and it wasn’t unusual for Bulgarians to offer help. Bulgarians I didn’t know were often giving me food and carrying my things and giving me rides. But the city had no money to de-ice the roads or sidewalks nor to keep the street lights lit. Twice he had to catch me to keep me from falling, and we were alone on the street. “I’m going home,” I said.

We got to my building, and I decided I wouldn’t unlock the door with him standing there. The lights in the stairwell didn’t work. “Thank you for your help,” I said and held out my hand for my backpack.

“I buy you a coffee,” he said. He was near 40 perhaps, wide shoulders, and large hands.

“No, thanks. Really. My boyfriend is waiting for me to call. I need to go.”

“I help you.”

“Hand me my bag, please.”

Moonlight reflected around us on the ice and snow. “No,” he said.

I didn’t understand. “My bag, please.”


“Give me my bag. Please.”


“Give me my bag!”

He ran. I ran after him, sliding on the ice. At the corner I stopped. Around the corner the street was darker. Trees kept back the moonlight and that next street looked like the entrance to a cave. I wasn’t going that far to save a backpack.

I didn’t start shaking until I got into my apartment and picked up the phone. The next day, a Bulgarian friend took me to the police station… but that is another story.

It is hard to know when to end a chapter. You’re supposed to make the reader want to turn the page–just one more chapter and then I’ll go to bed–but the rhythm has to be there too. I’m looking for that beat in the action. Does that make sense? You don’t want the reader to be confused or unsatisfied–what? That’s is it? Did I miss something?

How do you know when to end a chapter?

11 thoughts on “A-ha! There it is!

  1. Jeez, what a hard question… I have no idea.

    Re-reading “the book” intensely, chapter by chapter, as I’ve been doing recently — it’s interesting seeing how I did the chapterization. Interesting, and disquieting… because I broke (most of) the chapters for my own convenience, not for the sake of the story or the reader. There are a half-dozen POVs (voices, really), rotating among them from one chapter to the next. And these chapters are looooong things, too. The MS printout I’ve been reading is single-spaced Times Roman, standard margins, and it’s not unusual for a chapter to be over 20 pages long. Way too much.

    In the overhauled version, that’s one of the things I must fix: as you say, break on the beat. (This will probably mean discarding the multiple voices, if not the POVs themselves, but again, the reader and especially the story will need it that way.)

    I like how Terry Pratchett doesn’t write his Discworld books in chapter form at all. Just sections, sometimes just a page long (or less) and sometimes a dozen (or more).

    It’s hard to write chapters without making them break at the end of a writing session, too. (Like blog posts: “That’s that!” and then you stand up.)

  2. Stay too long, you end up boring everyone, and yourself. Leave too soon, you miss the chance for that perfect moment, that perfect exit line.

    Sometimes I know when the moment is right. Other times, not. It seems to depend on how much I’m paying attention, how tuned in I am to to the dynamics of the “scene” in conjunction with how it’s making me feel. But I guess timing, in all of life- and writing- is like that- how in tune am I?

  3. Thank you, Shelli, but it is crazy making.

    JES, if I broke chapters at the end of writing sessions, my chapters would be insane–two line chapters here and five page chapters there. Someone suggested that Dan Brown’s book was successful in part because of the short chapters. Since I haven’t read the book, I’ll refrain from further comment.

    Shelly & Sarah, see, my problem has always been that I ask the hosts if they need any help cleaning up. So many kitchens I have cleaned!

    Squirrel, thanks, and yes there is a next chapter.

  4. I found the DaVinci Code hard to put down, because Brown broke his chapters in the middle of action. All the down moments happen in the middle of chapters.

    JES worrying about the long chapters, I’ve seen a lot of books that don’t have chapter breaks as such, but only scene breaks. Or several scene breaks numbered within long chapters. Of course, now I can’t remember which books those are, but I know I’ve seen them.

    I try not to over-think my chapter breaks, but rather do them instinctively. I’ve found that my instinct is to break a chapter immediately following a moment of revelation. If there is no revelation in that particular scene or chapter, I break at the end of the scene. The few times I’ve tried to break where I “thought” I should, it got bad feedback. So now I just go with the instinct.

  5. It is hard to know when to end something to keep the feeling of a cliff hanger there. I think it is pretty much trial and error, keeping writing it over and over again and hope it comes out right. It’ll take a while to get it down tho

  6. One option for ending a chapter is to end on a cliffhangar. That is to say, end where the story shifts from something happening to teh expectation of a consequence. I ended one chapter with a gal jumping off a cliff into the see to escape, which still tickles my funny bone because it’s pretty much the only real cliff hangar ending I’ll ever write, I believe.

    the main point is that you want the readers to want to know what happens next when you end the chapter so they’ll turn the page.

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