At some point in writing your novel, you have to start thinking about chapter breaks.

Thoughtful chapter breaks are  more important than ever. By starting and ending in the right places, your chapter breaks alone can serve the powerful function of building suspense and keeping your readers reading more of your book. Unlike sentences or paragraphs, which have rules, chapters are artistic decisions. Here are three simple, essential techniques that can help you make effective chapter pauses.

1. Focus on the writing:

In deciding where to insert their breaks, some writers make chapter breaks part of their initial outline, but I find this method too challenging. In my experience, the most effective chapter breaks are born by writing first, and evaluating the structure second.

When you begin working on your book, structure your outline by episodes and events, not chapters. Only as you begin actually writing the novel should you give any thought to the chapter structure. When you come to a point that jumps out at you as a possible good place for a chapter break, put in a “#” or the chapter number.

I also do a Control return to keep chapters spaced. In addition, I use the document map view to help me keep track of what I’ve written.

2. Break chapters when the story requires a shift:

Changes of place, changes of time and changes of point of view are all excellent places for chapter breaks.

A chapter break underscores the fact that there’s been a significant change of some kind—of place, of perspective, of point of view, of plot direction. It jogs your reader’s mind, telling him that it’s time for a re-orientation, a retaking of his bearings. It can also refresh your reader’s eye after a long interval in one setting or situation.

3. Break chapters in the heart of the action:

Ask yourself, how can I end this part so that the sleepy reader is compelled to keep the light on, if only to see how some crisis turns out or how some crucial question is answered?

When shooting for this effect, there’s one principle that’s as close to a surefire technique as can be: the cliffhanger. This term dates back to the 1930s and ’40s. Tarzan, or Buck Rogers, or the Green Hornet would be left literally hanging by his fingernails from the crumbling edge of a cliff. The idea was to make sure we were back in the theater the following week. This works for novels too.

Effective as it is, there are a couple of caveats: First, you don’t want to end every chapter this way, or even most of them. It becomes predictable, which is something you don’t ever want anybody to say about your novel. After a while, this tactic loses its punch.