With just a month to go before I finish what I expect will be the last draft of my novel, I’m starting to think about where to put my chapter breaks.
Then story I’m telling on is pretty straight forward. The time period of the story is about two weeks in the lives of the characters. I don’t jump around. I don’t change locations or eras. I don’t have a prologue or epilogue. I’ve written it from start to finish, saying everything I want to say in (what will hopefully be) about 80,000 words. I have always intended to put in chapter breaks, but just haven’t really gotten around to it.
Next month, when I hand it over to a few trusted readers for feedback, I want the experience of reading it to be as novel-like as possible. So I plan to insert the chapter breaks before I send it out. I’m just not sure where to put them.
I’ve done a bit of research. Writer’s Digest suggests inserting chapter breaks either when you shift the story in time or location, or in the middle of an action scene – to create a cliffhanger and keep people turning the pages.
This guy agrees with that. He adds that chapters should be in the range of 20 pages, with 50 pages being the longest you really want to go. He also says to use your instincts and check your work, which makes sense to me.
In looking at books that I’ve referenced many times while working on my novel (White Oleander, Winter’s Bone) I have found that I really like the succinct first chapters in both. While the rest of the book may have longer chapters, both of those stories kick off with a short chapter (not a prologue) that is the start of the action and really sets the tone in a masterful way.
My Chapter Breaks
My story starts off with an argument at a funeral. When I’m done polishing it, I hope it will stand up as a kick-ass first chapter.
Throughout the story, I have scenes with good tension, where it might be good to use the cliffhanger theory, but even if my story was an action-packed murder mystery, ending every chapter that way seems repetitive.
Though I don’t have any big shifts in time or place, the story does allow for breaks between scenes. I think what I will do is print out my draft and look for places every 15-30 pages that might make good chapter breaks. The only reason I’m even worried about it is that I want the novel to feel balanced.
What I don’t want is ten three-page chapters followed by a forty page chapter, then a 20 page chapter and so on. I want it to feel masterful. Scratch that. I want it to be masterful. I’m no master novelist yet, but to me, these details are the equivalent of dressing for the job you want. A master novelist would get this detail right, and so I will strive for mastery and work to get my chapter breaks in places that work.
Do you have a go-to method for placing chapter breaks? If so, lay it on me. I’d love to hear it.