|Graphic by Elle Carter Neal|
There is no correct answer to that. I’ve read books that had one-page chapters, books with varied page-count chapters, and one book, Delores Claiborne by Stephen King, had NO chapters.
You can be arbitrary and make a chapter break every 10 (or 15 or 25) pages. But you really don’t need to set your book up in chapters to begin with (unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool outliner). Sometimes, it’s easier to write the whole first draft with no chapters, just scene breaks, and do your chapter numbering later.
For me, as a writer, a chapter is a feel, a rhythm to a story. A chapter is a story within a story with a beginning, middle and an end. As a reader, I also like scene breaks within a chapter to change up that rhythm, and because we are now a society of short attention spans. We are accustomed to “sound bites”, tweets, and texts.
Break your chapter when your story needs a change of place, time, and or point of view.
For example: She shivered as she looked out the window at the snow drifts and debated throwing one more pair of shorts into her suitcase. NEW CHAPTER: The white-hot sun blinded her when she stepped out of the airport into the welcome warmth of Phoenix, Arizona. She breathed deeply and looked around her at the clear blue sky. Yes, she should’ve packed more shorts.
Break your chapter in the middle of the action to create more suspense (the cliffhanger), which will compel your reader to keep going.
Example: I stared in amazement at the unexpected and rather unnerving sight of the vehicle emerging from the mist—a hearse—a big, long, black hearse.
If you’re reading a murder mystery and the protagonist is in a small mountain town (Forbidden Entry by Sylvia Nobel), this will most likely make you turn the page to find out what that’s all about!
But use this technique sparingly. You don’t want to end every chapter this way, or even most of them. It becomes predictable and loses its punch, which is something you don’t want anybody to say about your novel.
How do you like your chapters to end and how do you decide how long they should be?
|Heidi M. Thomas is a native Montanan who now lives in North-central Arizona where she blogs, teaches writing, and edits. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. The next book in the series, Dare to Dream, and a non-fiction book Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women, have recently been released. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.|