Bridging the Gap: How to Start Your Next Chapter
There is nothing quite like the feeling of finishing off a chapter that you’re really happy with. You’ve hit all the beats just right, the pacing is spot on, and you’ve ended it in a way that feels conclusive, yet hints at more to come. But then, you’re faced with the mammoth task of tackling the next chapter, and suddenly, the path forward doesn’t seem quite so clear.
The transition from one chapter to the next can often feel like standing at the edge of a chasm, unsure how to get to the other side. You see the path you want your narrative to take, and you have an idea of the plot points you want to cover, but how do you bridge the gap from where you are to where you need to be?
Let’s dive into the art of transition and make it less intimidating. Here are a few strategies that might make starting the next chapter just a little bit easier.
Know what you want to say
The key to a smooth transition to your next chapter lies in maintaining a logical flow of thoughts, ideas, and events. This is a ‘thesis statement’ of sorts for your chapter, the thing that ties everything together.
It’s hard to know where to begin if you don’t know what you want to say, so start by identifying the core theme or focus of your next chapter. It could be a plot point, character development, or a significant event.
Knowing what you want your next chapter to say makes it easier to find a link or connection between the two. If it’s an event, for instance, this could mean you want to linearly continue the storyline. If you finished your current chapter with a big reveal, you might, instead, choose to open the next chapter with a flashback, or even switch to a different character’s point of view.
Start with an action beat
A great strategy for diving into a new chapter is to begin with an action beat. It immediately hooks your readers.
An action beat is a snippet of action that pulls your reader into the story and propels it forward. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something huge. It can be as simple as a household chore, or starting the chapter in the middle of a conversation. The idea is simply to start with something that is happening, thus creating momentum.
The best action beats are relevant to the chapter before and contribute to the narrative you’ve set up. It could build on a cliffhanger or conflict introduced in the previous chapter, or set up an entirely new scenario that builds on the overarching plot or character development.
Set the scene
Another effective strategy for starting your next chapter is using visual description to set the scene for where the chapter takes place. In this way, you can gently guide your readers into the narrative, carefully building the atmosphere before the primary events unfold.
Create a clear, vivid picture of the location or circumstance your characters find themselves in at the start of a chapter. This can involve descriptions of a physical environment— a picturesque village, a bustling city street, the quiet hush of a forest— or the unveiling of a character’s emotional state or sociopolitical climate influencing the story.
To properly set a scene, you should pick details that enhance the reader’s understanding of the context and atmosphere of your story. Rather than just stating what the scene looks like, think about how the scene feels — the smells, sounds, the weather, the mood of the characters, and so on. You could even start by setting up a character’s emotional state, especially if this is something that ties into the way you finished the chapter before.
Change the point of view
If you want to catch your readers off-guard, then changing the narrative point of view (PoV) can be a great method to introduce new insights, or create suspense in your story. Shifting from one character’s perspective to another between chapters allows readers to see the narrative through different lenses, providing depth and complexity to your story.
A PoV switch, when written effectively, can have a significant impact on your narrative. For instance, if Chapter One ends with Character A being secretive about something, you could start Chapter Two from Character B’s perspective as they try to uncover that secret. This change not only brings a fresh voice and perspective but also makes the story more suspenseful.
Integrating diverse perspectives is a fantastic way to let your reader meet compelling characters. It also opens new avenues for exploring backstory and enriching your story world. It injects an element of surprise into your narrative, keeping your readers on their toes by challenging their expectations.
Switching PoV, however, can be difficult to master, so it’s crucial that the switch isn’t confusing for the reader. Be clear about whose perspective we’re now following. Distinctive narrative voices for different characters can help with this. Each character should have a unique voice that reflects their personality and worldview and should serve the plot. Don’t switch narrative voice for the sake of it — always make sure it serves your plot.
Play with time
Playing with time is another good technique to start a new chapter that keeps readers on their toes. This can involve flashbacks, flash-forwards, or even parallel narrative timelines.
One of the most common methods of narrative time manipulation is through the use of flashbacks or flash-forwards. For instance, if a chapter ends with a character finding an old photograph, the next chapter might begin with a flashback to the moment that photograph was taken. This provides deeper layers of understanding and context to your story.
Alternatively, if a chapter concludes on a note of suspense, the next chapter could start with a flash-forward to an event further in the future, thereby escalating tension and curiosity. After the flash-forward, you can then gradually fill in the events that led up to that moment, keeping your readers invested.
As with any narrative choice, however, the timeline of your story should never confuse your readers. Each shift in time should be clearly signposted and be purposeful. Ensure it enhances your story and provides additional depth or context that benefits the reader’s experience.
Focus on character
Characters are another great focus that can help you start your next chapter. You can concentrate on the development of existing characters or introduce a new one.
Characters are the heart and soul of a story. A focus on character development can drive your narrative forward, resonate with readers, and fuel the progression of your plot. Taking time to elaborate on a character’s motivations, emotions, growth, or conflicts can be a fantastic way to open a new chapter, whether it’s through a deeper dive into their backstory, a pivotal moment of self-realization, or a test of their resolve.
For example, if a previous chapter ended in high tension, the next could begin with your protagonist’s introspection, analyzing their emotions, fears, and plans. This inward journey allows readers to empathize with your character, rooting for them in the challenges that lie ahead.
Just as focusing on existing characters can drive the narrative, introducing new characters can inject something fresh and new into your story. A new character, whether an ally, antagonist, or neutral party, can bring in new conflicts, perspectives, and subplot possibilities. They might challenge the status quo, push your existing characters out of their comfort zones, or provide a crucial piece of information that propels the story forward.
But remember, every character that enters your narrative should serve a purpose. Any new developments should remain true to the characters’ established personalities and arcs. Similarly, when introducing new characters, they must fit organically within the narrative without disrupting the story’s flow.
Starting your next chapter can initially feel daunting, but with the right strategies, you can seamlessly journey into the next phase of your story. Whether you choose to focus on character development, play with time, shift the point of view, or start with an action beat, each approach provides a unique way to move your plot forward and keep your readers engaged.
The best way to learn is by reading! The next time you pick up a book, think back on what we’ve covered in this post and see what techniques the author uses. Look at how authors transition between chapters and how they keep the story flowing.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with these techniques in your own writing, and always be open to learning from the books you read. The more you notice what others do, the more you’ll see patterns, making it easier for you to bridge the gaps between chapters.