There is no set rules for chapter structure. They can be as short as one word and any length longer.
But there are chapter styles I prefer to read more than others. these are all my ideas and may be harebrained to the rest of yall. But here goes.
First of all length: The length of the chapter is irrelevent to me. What is important is that one major idea is encapsulated and dealt with in the chapter.
An introductory chapter may be focused on setting and story introduction. Once finished that chapter is done.
A intermediate step chapter might be focused on particular act or step absolutely necessary to the resolving of the over all conflict. Whether this act is successful or not when it is complete the chapter ends.
A ramifications chapter a chapter showing the ramifications of a previous act and either introducing a new threat or introducing a new act that must be completed. Once the new course of action is set the chapter ends.
Actual chapter structure: Again these are just my preferences. I like chapters focused on one POV or POV type. Excluding narrators. I really don't like head hopping in chapters. I like a short scene setting (unless the chapter is in exactly the same scene as the previous) followed by a mild hook leading into the purpose of the chapter followed by the actions or information leading to either to the next important step, unveiling of a critical piece of info, or the discovery of a important plot device. Then the chapter would end on another hook leading into to future chapters.
What I hate: long dry chapters of nothing but history or information. I was reading a tech-science thriller and had to wade thru 33 pages of history and description of nucleo-peptides, phages, viruses, and harmonic deviations of cells! He could have done the same thing in one page. Chapters divided up by number of words or pages. Chapter after chapter of either all action or no-action. Chapters focusing on multiple protagonists simultaneously. Chapters that try to deal with too many issues at once (excluding the end chapter where the problems are resolved at the climax and aftermath). Lastly Chapters that refuse to end... moving thru multiple scenes, multiple pov's, multiple resolutions, etc, etc.
The scene is the most basic unit, to me. You can put as many as you like in a chapter. I think I only notice chapters when they end -- so I like for the ending to be dramatic in some way.
Posts: 2830 | Registered: Dec 2004
The other time I notice chapters is when I'm trying to get to a stopping place. Sometimes scenes just go on and on with no end in sight, and sometimes there is no discernable break between the end of one section and the beginning of the other. Even in books I immensely enjoy, this can get frustrating. I don't even mind books that have a hundred chapters, because that means you always know the author will tell you clearly where one thing ends and the next begins.
Of course, if it is a book I'm not in love with, coming to the end of a chapter and putting it down could signal the death knell for the book for me; I may never pick it back up. I know that is why many authors put cliff-hangers at each chapter end. But I think if I enjoy the book I'll come back to it no matter where the chapters begin and end.
I don't usually notice chapter breaks unless I'm trying to get to a breaking point, like Autumn mentioned. But there was this one book by Dean Koontz that had really short chapters, about 2-3 pages each and each chapter was from a different POV and it felt so choppy. I really enjoyed the story but the chopped up chapters drove me crazy. I don't mind short chapters if the flow continues but this didn't. It was very jarring.
Posts: 225 | Registered: Feb 2005
I personally like OSC's philosophy about chapters: relatively short chapters at the beginning of the novel so the reader feels that the book is advancing and then, once their into it, longer chapters so it's harder for them to put down. It's a very psychological approach intended to hook readers and then keep them reading.
I get the sense that the books with short chapters are written by people who outline on index cards.
I have a very organized mind. The major events of the story are written in my head, and I find out the details on the fly. This causes my chapters to be as long as they need to be. My first novel was very character driven, and my chapters tended to be very long--twelve chapters for 75,000 words. That's about 23 pages per chapter. My second novel is event driven, and the chapters have tended more toward 6-9 pages each.
I'm with you, TaShaJaRo - all those tiny little chapters in Da Vinci Code drove me up the wall. It felt like I was watching a television show with an annoying amount of commercial breaks.
Personally I try not to worry about chapters as I write. I'll just put one where there is a natural POV shift or break in the story. Then, when I go back to edit, I take a closer look and see where maybe I can balance things out.
I like OSC's rule, though - hook 'em quick and you'll keep them on the line. There are exceptions of course (The Princess Bride comes to mind - possibly one of the best first chapters ever written. I have a feeling that one was long compared to the rest of the book; it could have been a film all by itself) but I still don't think it's something you should worry about as you're writing. Just keep it in the back of your head in case, like wbriggs, you want to end your scene in such a way as to convince the reader to stay up just a little bit later...just ONE more chapter...
It wasn't the tiny chapters in The Da Vinci Code that drove me nuts. It was the clipped sentences. I don't think there was a sentence in the book that ever strayed past 12 words. Maybe 15 words max.
That alone made it difficult to read. Eventually, I got used to it. When finished with the book, I moved on to a Stephen King book just so I could have an abundance of 60-word sentences. It soothed me.
Such a big deal was made of it, I TRIED to read it. I just couldn't force my way through it. My mom promises that it gets great once you get into it. "The beginning's all about a horrid murder! How could you not be pulled in?"
I never figured out why. I just remember thinking, 'This sucks. How did anyone wade through it enough to get to the cool parts?'
Maybe it just seemed to halting to me...Interesting that I didn't notice the small sentences & chapters.