When I first started writing, like most of us I would guess, I really thought there were rules regarding how to write a chapter. I listened to what my favorite authors said about writing and it was all so vague -- "write to a cliff hanger" or "make sure your chapter breaks are in the middle of the action' or "don't have your characters falling asleep at the end of a chapter."
What? Huh? That seemed possible to do maybe twice in a book - but write to a cliffhanger every time? I couldn't do it. And what I really needed to know was how long should a chapter be? What should be in a chapter?
So, I collected all the things other people told me or that I noticed other writers doing and I made my little rule book. Because without some kind of concrete guidance -- I was lost. Actually, more than lost I was stuck at the beginning. So, I am grateful to these little rules for at least getting me moving. Here it is, best as I can remember -
All Chapters are 15 pages, no longer than 20.
You should have a pov switch about halfway through the chapter.
Three things need to happen in every chapter - one big thing, two small things.
Of course, looking at that list I am a little embarrassed. It's so arbitrary and has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with good storytelling or keeping the reader turning pages, or pacing (which is really what chapter breaks are about - the pace of your book). And I wrote a lot of books with ho hum chapter breaks. Even some with my characters going to bed for the night, sure that "tomorrow would be better." Ugh. The learning process sure isn't pretty.
But the things we believe in when we start out - we are supposed to outgrow. We are supposed to get better than, otherwise we're not learning. And ridiculously, here I am looking at what those favorite writers of mine were saying about chapters and realizing - those are the only rules. End your chapters with cliffhangers. More than that - write your chapters to cliffhangers. That's just good pacing. Organizing every scene and every chapter so that you end your chapter at a point that the reader has to keep reading and wouldn't dream of putting the book down - is hard. Hard. Really really hard. But, it's key.
Thinking about chapters this way is making writing so much more fun for me right now. Things just keep happening. My characters have very little time for a breath and I think it's working. Well, it's working for me and that's all that matters right now.
Hey, anyone out there reading the Elizabeth Vaughn Warprize, Warsworn, Warlord books? WOW. WOW. WOW. I pretended to be sick last night so I could finish the last one. Don't tell my husband.