For most novels, a chapter is to a book like a word is to a sentence. Chapters are the building block of your novel and can be used to make sure your story is always moving forward. Chapters can give your reader a break by alerting them that one part of the story is over, or they can leave your readers hanging and force them to read “just one more paragraph.”
When should chapters start and end?
Think of chapters like mini-books. You want each chapter to start at a point where the reader is engrossed but has enough information to understand what is going on. Like books, each chapter should have a theme and a climax that connects the beginning, middle, and end. The end of the chapter should answer some questions readers have while leaving them with more. Unlike books, however, you can—and probably should—end each chapter (except the last) with a major cliffhanger to keep the readers reading. Ending a chapter in the middle of a scene, after a major plot twist, with some food for thought, or after a joke allows the reader to take a breather and gives them incentive to turn to the next page.
How long should your chapters be?
The average chapter is somewhere around 3000 words, but that can vary with audience and genre. Break up chapters naturally with scene or POV changes and don’t worry about the length. Varying chapter length within a single novel can help you pace your story and surprise your reader. For this reason, there are books with one sentence chapters. There are, however, times you want your chapter lengths to be consistent. If you are publishing a story chapter-by-chapter on a platform like Wattpad, your readers want to get what they expect.
What should you not do in a chapter?
Avoid changing POVs in a single chapter even if your POV is third person omniscient. This is known as head-hopping. While you can make scene breaks to alert the reader to a change in POV, the most effective way to change narrators is changing chapters. Another thing you should not have is chapters that do not fit in with the rest of the story. To see if you have any unnecessary chapters, you can reverse outline. Do any of your chapters not contribute to the rest of the novel? Each chapter should show the characters making some headway towards the main goal of the book, and all your chapters should be intertwined.
Should you name chapters?
Chapter names can be used for symbolism, foreshadowing, or humor, but it can be tiring to name all your chapters, especially if you have many. Decide what you think will be most useful for your novel and help establish the aesthetic and voice you want to portray. You can also simply name a chapter after the POV it is written in, which can make it easier for the reader to follow the story.
How do you name chapters?
Chapter names should relate to the entire chapter by pointing out a common theme between all the events in that chapter. You can name a chapter after an important character or object, which can help you foreshadow or symbolize something. Chapter names can also be longer and break away from the overall tone of the story to add humor. One of my favorite chapter names is Hearthstone Passes Out Even More than Jason Grace (Though I Have No Idea Who That Is), Rick Riordan’s reference to Heroes of Olympus in Magnus Chase. Generally, Riordan’s chapter names are sentence-length and humorous. Chapter names can allow you to put your own voice into a novel that is primarily told by the narrators.
I tend to write short chapters and use chapter names with only a few words. How do you use chapters? Let me know in the comments!