Chapters are road signs. By dividing your story into sections that make sense sequentially, the reader receives a satisfying, digestible experience.
Each chapter in your book tells a mini-story that forwards your overall plot. Logically, you don’t need for chapters at all. You, the writer, could start the book on page one and keep going right to the end. However, chapters create a more user-friendly book by giving the reader “resting” places. They give readers a sense of accomplishment. The chapter title hints at something to come, something worth waiting for.
The purpose of chapters
- By cutting the story into chucks, it’s easier to digest. The reader can process the plot developments and characters before continuing into the complications.
- Chapters can also adjust the structure to highlight pivotal themes or ideas.
- They create rhythm and determine the pace.
- Coming up with interesting chapter titles also has it’s uses. It grabs the attention, it refocuses the reader’s focus and curiosity and it creates sign posts to orientate the reader within the fictional world.
- Chapters usually consist of several scenes. In novels, usually three or more scenes linked together per chapter.
- For those using several points of view when writing, creating chapters with the POV character’s name can help readers understand who is telling the story this round.
Determining chapter length
There is no industry standard, only an average and that’s about 8-10 pages per chapter. Chapter length is best used strategically to structure the story and to provide maximum impact in effect. Short chapters keep the pace high but risk the story feeling choppy or fragmented. Extremely short chapters (1-2 pages) are used for dramatic effect, enforcing the importance of a single event. Long chapter create a sense of real time.
Draw the reader into the first scene. This scene either provides continuity from the previous one or a surprising shift such as a change of POV, time or style. It gives the reader an idea what the next part of the story will be like.
Offer mini breaks here if the chapter is especially lengthy. They might not be crucial but they help the reader put an anchor down if they don’t have time to make it to the end of the chapter. Mini breaks occur between scenes and are denoted by a white space line or some asterisks if occurring at the end of a page.
This is the most likely place to lose your reader for good. Once the book is put down, the reader might get preoccupied, distracted and forget about it. This is where you must spice things up to make sure the reader picks the book back up, or even refuses to put it down to begin with. Take the reader to an exciting emotional state and then leave them hanging with uncertainty, leave them wondering. It’s human nature to be curious, to pursue the answer to a question. No matter how long or short the chapter is, end them at a point where the reader is motivated to continue reading, such as:
- Right at the moment of disaster that ends a scene.
- Right in the middle of the conflict (continue the conflict at the start of the next chapter).
- Something significant has just been reveals.
- An important question has been raised.
- At a decision point or beginning of new action, with resumed goal orientation that provides the reader with anticipation.
- After the “action” phase of a mini-plot, before the “reaction” begins.
- Just before the climax of a story arc.
- Immediately after the climax of a significant event (before the reaction).
- Immediately after a development between two or more characters, thus signalling the importance of this event/ information.
Never end a chapter only to provide yourself with a convenient blank place for the purpose of transition!