By Bob Boze
Let’s start with the fact that there are no real rules for chapter breaks. Chapters can be as long or as short as you want. Because of this, the answer to the question we often get asked, “How many chapters should I have?” is “As many or as few as you want.”
Two of the tools in a writer’s toolbox that we find are often overlooked are chapter breaks and titles. As such, when we edit someone’s work, all we see are seemingly random breaks with Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and so on.
We believe several things about chapter breaks. They should be used to make a change in our story. A scene change, a POV change, a lead into a major event, a dramatic twist… anything we want to stand out. Thus, our chapters can be as long or short as we need to make the change, then close it out.
We’ve seen one-page chapters and twenty-page chapters, where both worked well. We don’t typically recommend twenty pages since we also believe chapter breaks should be used to allow the reader to catch their breath; to take a break after an intense or emotional scene. Here again, it’s whatever length works with your story.
Like your story title, chapter titles should also entice the reader, make them want to read on. Any good reader will open a book to the table of contents and scan the chapter titles. When they do, you want them to go: “Wow, wonder what that chapter’s about?”
So, use every tool in your toolbox, including chapter titles. However, not all fiction has chapter titles, but they do enhance the structure and interest in the book.
One last suggestion. Chapter titles are often hard to come up with. Write your chapter, then go back and look for something that will make the reader ask, “Wow, where is this going and what’s that about?” But, don’t give anything away!