Updated: Jan 29, 2021
Chapters are a little important. I guess. Maybe.
What is a book chapter for?
Chapters form the book's structure by breaking up the story in meaningful places.
Every story has peaks and valleys in terms of excitement. (If it's all peaks or all valleys, it gets monotonous and boring.) You get to choose if you want the chapter break to come during excitement or during a quiet time, to let the reader breathe and reflect.
How do you start and end a chapter?
Each chapter is a mini story. Introduce a small question or problem, and solve it (or complicate it! mwahaha) by the end of the chappie. The open and close of a chapter should be bookends. You can have the beginning and the end mirror each other to bring it all together.
A big jump in time might merit a new chapter. If you're about to pull a "six months later," you might want to consider ending the chapter there.
You can start or end a chapter by introducing a new character. Who are they? How will they affect the protagonist(s) and their goals? A mystery unfolds!
End the chapter where it feels natural. This might be a cliffhanger or a quiet moment.
If you're about to reveal something huge, BAM. End the chapter, and your reader won't be able to resist turning the page.
Include some sensory details at the beginning of each chapter. This helps immerse the reader in the story.
Recommendation: Don't begin or end chapters with sleep, at least not on the reg. "She woke up to the sound of her alarm." "And then he went to sleep." It's not necessary, and it's boring. It can also make the chapter/story feel like the reader has been reading all day long. Bleh. You can do better!
Do you have to title each chapter?
Chapter titles are optional. You might just call it "Chapter 15" and leave it at that.
If you want to change it up, here are some suggestions for how to name a chapter:
The name of the POV character (e.g., "Chapter 15: Mariana")
A word or phrase from the chapter (e.g., "Chapter 15: Accusation")
A non-spoilery description of something interesting that happens (e.g., "Chapter 15, in which Santiago Reconsiders His Life Choices")
Commentary on the content of the chapter (e.g., "Chapter 15: Get Your Shit Together, Nicola")
How long should a book chapter be?
Follow your heart. (I know, I know, that's not the answer you wanted.)
I hate to say it, but there's no hard-and-fast rule about how long chapters should be.
I write my first drafts longhand, so it's hard to judge the exact word count. I go by page count instead! I usually aim for 10 longhand/notebook pages. This usually equates to about 2,000 to 3,000 words, depending on the size of the notebook.
Some chapters are longer, some shorter. I've had chapters that were only a couple pages long and others that were 20 pages. They don't all have to be the same length.
Does this chapter matter?
Every chapter should contribute something to the main plot or a sub-plot. Even chappies that focus more on developing a character or a relationship should refer to one of the plotlines.
In the romance genre, the relationship is the plot. In these cases, each chapter should move the relationship forward (i.e., closer to the Happily Ever After). Even if a scene is just them bonding, it should take the relationship up a step or complicate it somehow. What you can't do is have scenes with them bonding where they're all at the same level relationship-wise. Make sure a character's thoughts, motivations, and/or behaviors are changing and reflect that something is happening.
Here's what we went over:
Chapters break up the story, forming the structure.
Each chapter is a mini-story, so it should introduce a new conflict, progress, or complication. You can even mirror the beginning and end to emphasize that it's a contained unit.
End the chapter where it feels natural to either slam the reader a cliffhanger or let them sigh and move forward.
Every chapter should contribute something to a plot or a character's development.
Now go forth and write an awesome chapter.
I believe in you!
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