Just One More Chapter

By Joe Moore

Welcome to 2015. All of us at TKZ wish all of you the best of New Years. From a writing perspective, I hope you produce your best work yet. And from a reader’s perspective, may you discover a new author that thrills you beyond expectations.

As some of you know, I write supernatural thrillers with co-author, Lynn Sholes. We are at the midway point of THE TOMB, book 3 of a series. It is the eighth novel we’ve written together. We’re often asked how two people can write fiction. It’s pretty much a mystery, but I’ve pulled back the curtain in a previous blog post to answer the question.

What I want to reveal today are some of the secrets and tricks we use to keep our readers turning the pages to our thrillers. It’s important to remember that these are the techniques we use; they may not be right for you. They might even make you feel uncomfortable, but our job is to write the best, most exciting story we can. Here’s how we do it.

Probably the number one technique is short chapters. And when I say short, I mean SHORT. With few exceptions, we try to max out each chapter at around 1000 words. Many chapters are only 500-700. Now you’re probably thinking: What can you do with 500 to 1000 words? Answer: Only tell what’s important. Leave out the rest. What moves the story forward or develops the characters? That’s the questions we ask. Then we write it in 1000 words or less.

Number two technique is to end every chapter with a cliffhanger. Leave the reader hanging. Give them a taste of what’s to come, then stop. Here’s an example—the last paragraph from the opening chapter of THE TOMB.

I grabbed the binoculars and searched in the direction of La Pampa for Marquez and his driver. They were standing in front of the restaurant with their backs to me; the colonel talking on his phone. If I called him, he would see my caller ID and no doubt ignore me. For all I knew he was giving the command to start the assault. I thought of blowing the car horn to attract his attention, but that would also attract the attention of the two targets in the restaurant. The same problem if I got out and started yelling for the colonel’s attention. My last option was the one I chose. I pulled up the right leg of my jeans and removed the Walther PPK strapped to my calf. Slipping out of the SUV, I moved at a quick pace to the door on the side of the building. I reached for the knob, determined to follow the most wanted man on the planet.

Technique number three is to keep them hanging. The next chapter should take them someplace else, probably the continuation of the cliffhanger from two chapters ago. The reader finishes the chapter, knows it’s late and she should be in bed, but takes a peek at the next chapter and sees it’s the answer to a previous cliffhanger. And it’s only two or three pages. What does she do? She reads just one more chapter.

The fourth trick we use is to ask ourselves what the reader thinks will happen next. Then we do something different.

Writing in this fashion creates fast pacing, dynamics, and the unexpected. I love to read books like that. And I like to write them. I want to be placed in a position where I have to read just one more chapter. And I love doing the same thing to my readers.

How about you guys? Any secrets and tricks you want to share?

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24 thoughts on “Just One More Chapter

  1. Good list, Joe. I once had a dental hygienist ask me what I did, and I told her I was a writer. She asked me if I’d ever heard of James Patterson. “Um, yeah,” I said. Then she said, excitedly, she had figured out why he was so popular. I asked her to let me in on it. She said, as if she’d found the combination to a bank vault, “He writes really short chapters!”

    Of course, we all know short chapters without great characters and plot only get the reader to put the book down sooner.

    One other technique I advise at the polish stage is to try cutting the first and last paragraphs of a chapter. Get in faster, and leave before a sense of completion.

  2. Another useful tip, Jim. Thanks. It reminds me of the old say that the best time to leave a party is at its height. It’s also the easiest way to create a cliffhanger.

  3. Wow. Those are short chapters. Ha!

    I like splitting some scenes at end of chapters and continuing them at top of the next with escalating action. Readers generally won’t stop reading mid chapter, so they read on til the next page turning cliffhanger. Rinse and repeat.

    Your post definitely has me thinking, oh Wise One. Happy 2015!

  4. Guys, I’m a reader of suspense novels, not a writer…yet! It’s nice to know some insider secrets and tricks! Now I need to know what’s on the other side of that door! LOL!

  5. Lots of white space and chapters as short as they need to be–great techniques, Joe! I also try to use short sentences at the beginning and end of each paragraph. That formatting gives a rhythmic push-off from one chapter, and an easy-to-digest entry to the next.

  6. I think short chapters with cliffhangers are a great tool – my only frustration is that some writers do this and then switch scenes in the next chapter so the reader is literally ‘left hanging’ until a few chapters later (when they find out what happened). This can irritate me so I think you need to hook a reader but not play with them:)

  7. A friend of mine and writing partner is the master of the cliff hanger. She drives me nuts. I can’t ever stop reading her sections until I get to the end no matter how long they are.

    Regarding chapter length, I think genre has some bearing on that also. If you write epic fantasy, like I do, it just takes long to build your world. On the advice of some well-meaning people I sliced all the description, internals, extra characters, several arcs, and got it down to the bare bones to fit some mythical word count. Now I am back to putting in the missing world building and internals that gutted the story and made it “and this happened and then that happened and then another thing happened before something else happened.”

  8. Oh yeah, I’ve been caught by “wicker baskets” like you in the past. Just one more chapter indeed. Now that I know your dastardly secret, there will be no more 2:00am lights out for me! ~sigh~ until next time :-/

  9. Great advice, Joe. It’s working.

    A coworker recently told me her husband was reading thrillers. I asked which one. She replied, “The Shield.” I told her I was finishing The Blade.

    And it’s keeping me up late.

    Thanks for the techniques.

  10. I just realised. I’ve done exactly the same. My current WIP involves a lot of police procedures, and I’ve been blessed to have a serving police inspector as a technical advisor. He asked me to drip feed him everything I’d written so far. I did, and deliberately ended it on a cliffhanger – “and then a shot rang out.” There were three possible shooters and four possible victims. The immediate email response was, “what are you doing to me?!?!”
    LOL it works 😀

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