When should you start a new chapter in your novel? Does a new scene simply require a line break or does it demand a whole new page?
There’s no hard and fast rule for when to end or start a new chapter. Like word choice or sentence length, it’s a matter of feel, of craftsmanship.
Still, there ought to be a good reason for beginning and ending a chapter. Given this, being aware of some of the reasons why you might end/start a chapter is helpful.
Among the more common reasons for beginning a new chapter are to:
• Show significant new action – While scenes might occur only a short length of time apart from one another or even occur concurrent with one another, a chapter signifies a major new action or movement in the story. For example, one chapter might have the heroes planning an assault on a warehouse to free someone who has been kidnapped; the next chapter has our heroes actually assaulting the warehouse.
• Enhance the dramatic effect – A cliffhanger is a good example of this. A chapter could end with a character in a situation that he likely can’t get out of it (such as being corned by an assassin), and the next chapter then could show how he overcomes the crisis (such as asking as a condemned man to enjoy a last cigarette, which actually delivers a dart with an instant knockout potion in it).
• Reveal important information – When our main character learns something of such great significance that he must radically change his view or plan to resolve a problem, a chapter likely can end. For example, a wife about to sit down with her husband to talk about their lack of communication might learn he is cheating on her.
• Present new point of view – When the perspective character in the novel shifts, then a new chapter should begin. If you are telling the story from the point of view of a commander on a spaceship and then the commanding officer on the planet below, when switching between action occurring on the ship and the planet you may want to start a new chapter.
Perhaps because television shows have acts that are equal in length – it’s always the same number of minutes between commercials – new novelists these days feel they also must have chapters of the same length. While that might work for some stories, for others it is an artificiality that actually is detrimental to the story by disrupting its flow.
In addition, novels need not be divided into chapters at all. Though uncommon, sometimes shorter novels (often of less than 150 pages) can simply use line breaks between scenes rather than resort to chapters that are only three or four pages long. In longer novels, the book may simply be divided into parts (Part I, Part II, Part III, etc.) with each of those sections treated as a long short story.
My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.