Writing Books/Where should a chapter end?
I am taking a stab at writing a fiction novel. My question is, where should I end a chapter and begin the next? I know the basics, but is there an unspoken rule or guideline that a chapter should be more or less than so many words.
A chapter is not a complete unit. It is an open-ended unit that uses more of a "transistion" than an ending. Let's plot a chapter:
"I took the public bus to the supermarket and when I got off at my stop a group of toughs were waiting, hanging around. They eyed me and I thought about the week's worth of food money in my pocket. They robbed me, but a kind citizen called in the robbery on her cell phone as it went down, and the police arrived in time to save me and my money and arrest the toughs. The police dragged them away in cuffs and two cars. I went shopping."
I gave away the end of the episode and now you have no reason to read the next chapter. Giving away too much of your plot too soon is called 'telegraphing'. Suppose I had written it thus:
"I took the public bus to the supermarket and when I got off at my stop a group of toughs were waiting, hanging around. They eyed me and I thought about the week's worth of food money in my pocket. Slowly they closed the distance between us and with major boulevards on all sides of me, well, I had no place to run. I felt around for the money and asked myself about the difference between courage and stupidity, and which quality was more noble."
Here I did not telegraph. Rather, I left the plot point open and smoothed the transition to the next chapter by creating a little subtext for my reader by opening up the argument of fine lines between courage, stupidity, and what it means to be noble in thought and deed. I have invited my reader to join me in the next chapter if they want the answer to a couple of questions.
Remember, your first chapter must hold the promise of a major conflict to be resolved. It is in your final chapter that you resolve it.
A rule of thumb (and it's broken when you have been writing long enough to become an accomplished writer that knows how to manipulate her audience) is that a chapter runs between twenty and thirty raw manuscript pages in proper format.
I hope this answers your question.
Max Roth, Executive Editor
The Success Trust Literary Family