How long should a chapter be? Long enough, but not too long. Wishy-washy answer, yes? OK, then, let’s say it this way.
When you write a chapter of a book, it should meet these requirements:
- Something happens. Events in the chapter must advance the story in some way. If these events are removed from the story, it must irretrievably change the story, possibly even ruin the story. I often read chapters in which something happens-but the events matter very little to the overall story.
- Reader is never bored. The story events must happen quickly enough–the pacing must work–that the reader never has a chance to get bored. One reason we write in chapter is that the human body can’t sit perfectly still for hours on end. We must get up, move around, eat, go to the bathroom, get a drink, stretch, itch, twitch and so forth. Chapters mean you only have to sit still for–flip ahead and check–ah, just two more pages. Then you can take a break. But those two pages had better be exciting.
Of course, the pacing will vary with the intended audience and the type of story. Character-driven, literary stories will move at a slower pace than action-adventure stories for teens. But within that range of possibilities, your story must never bore the reader.
- End with a hook. No, stories don’t need to end abruptly with “Suddenly. . .” and leave the reader hanging till the next chapter. (Although, it’s a possibility.) But there must be something for the reader to anticipate in the next chapter. It might be a small puzzle about the character, or it might be a cliff-hanger. But chapters end at a place that brings the reader back from that snack to pick up the story. It’s that quiet, yet crucial question: What happens next?