Why You Really Can’t Put That Book Down

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My younger sister and I were talking over the phone about books. Both of us being avid readers, we talked about novels we were reading as well as novels we’ve read in the past.

Our conversation soon drifted to bestsellers, the ones that get to the big screen. I recalled the one (and only) pop fiction book I read and noted that the writing wasn’t all that great, but I couldn’t seem to put it down.

“Of course,” my sister said simply. “The chapters ended in the middle of a scene.”

She explained. The chapters never closed when the scene did. The end of the chapter came mid-scene, usually during dialogue or when something climatic happened. But the chapters never ended when the scene came to a neat close.

“Huh,” I said.

I did my research. I flipped through the accused book from chapter to chapter—and she was right. The chapter ended mid-scene while the real chapter ending happened mid-chapter. The chapter divisions shifted—all so that you keep on reading

Traditionally, the end of a chapter comes when a change of place, time or point of view arises. Here’s an example:

END OF CHAPTER: She rolled her eyes, then slid her sunglasses over her eyes. “Fine,” she said. “Let’s go to the dance.”

BEGINNING OF NEXT CHAPTER: The dress was too long. Mrs. Potterfield tried sewing the hem up a few inches, but the fabric wouldn’t hold the stitches.

There’s a break here because there’s a shift in time and place from the first section (deciding to go to the dance) to the second section (getting ready for the dance). Chapter endings set the pace for reading as well as bring closure to the scene so that the reader can readjust for the upcoming events.

But lately, that’s not how pop fiction handles chapter endings. The brakes are put on early in the scene, then swerve readers fast in another direction. This only causes the story to lose steam mid-chapter before ramping up the speed before the false chapter ending comes up.

That’s quite an exhausting way to read.

When I thought back to when I read that book, I remember checking my watch and counting how many pages I had left mid-chapter. That’s because the story reached its natural chapter ending, even though the book dictated that the chapter had 12 more pages left.

So the question now is this: Does pop fiction ignore the rules of chapter endings—or did pop fiction rewrite the rules of when a chapter ends?

Personally, I prefer when a chapter ends at its natural spot. I like collecting my thoughts about the chapter events before carrying on to the next chapter, whenever that may be. I also don’t want to be tired at work the next day because I simply couldn’t put the book down.

As if I don’t have self-control.

Now I want to know what you think. When do you think a chapter should end? Share your opinion below.

1 Comment

  1. A lot of us have become slaves to the rules of publishing. That is, if you don’t do X, you won’t get published. Hence, we get (and produce) over-the-top beginnings, cliffhangers between chapters, movie-like imagery and pacing… How much it bothers people depends, I suppose, on whether they consider storytelling to be art or entertainment.

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