I’m staring at a blinking cursor. No writeable phrases are flowing through my head. I wouldn’t say this is writer’s block, but my patience isn’t paying off.
I’ve written four chapters of my new book, Dot and Scribble Soar into Space, and I’m waiting on chapter five. How should I start the scene? I typically start scenes with dialogue, setting, or backstory. Like a puzzle, putting the next piece in place is all about timing. What feels right and what flows?
For the age group that I’m writing, one chapter should push you to the next one, but I want to start the chapter where the action is peaking.
The chapter I just finished ends with my characters in a space ship having just navigated through an asteroid field and hovering over a planet. What puzzle piece fits into the next position?

If you’ve ever faced this dilemma, here are a few tips to help you navigate your manuscript.

1. FOCUS ON THE WRITING FIRST.
In deciding where to insert breaks, some writers make chaptering part of their initial outline, but many writers find this constrictive. In my experience, the most effective chapter breaks are born by writing first, and evaluating the structure second. In other words, wing it. Whenever I’ve tried to plot out every chapter, I usually end up changing it later.

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.

2. BREAK CHAPTERS WHEN YOUR STORY REQUIRES A SHIFT.
Changes of place, time, and point of view are all excellent places for chapter breaks.

A chapter break like this underscores the fact that there’s been a significant change of some kind—of place, of perspective, of point of view, or of plot direction. It jogs your reader’s mind, telling him that it’s time for a shift of some type. It can also refresh your reader’s eye after a long interval in one setting or situation. These chapter breaks lend continuity and pacing.

3. BREAK CHAPTERS IN THE HEART OF THE ACTION.
Ask yourself, “How can I grab the reader’s attention in a fresh way?” How can I end this part so that the sleepy reader is compelled to keep the light on?

The good old cliffhanger, a term that dates back to the 1930s and ’40s, is one of the best ways to get your reader’s attention. Leave your reader wondering what is going to happen next.

Effective as it is, there are a couple of caveats: First, you don’t want to end every chapter this way. It becomes predictable, which is something you don’t ever want anybody to say about your novel. Also, for this technique to be most effective, it needs to be an integral part of the overall story, not a gratuitous invention inserted just for effect.