Written by JJ Barnes
The best way to decide when to end your chapters is by giving yourself an approximate word count. As you are coming to meet that limit you wrap up the chapter to fit.
You can pick your chapter length based on what’s most appropriate for the genre you’re writing in. For instance, if you’re writing for children your chapters will naturally be shorter than if you’re writing for adults. In Nature-Girl Vs Worst Nightmare, I averaged about 1000 words per chapter. Whereas in Emerald Wren And The Coven Of Seven, I averaged about 2000 words per chapter. For more literary books you might write longer chapters, perhaps 3000 – 4000 words.
If you’re basing it on word length, and you know you have a dramatic moment coming, then as soon as you start approaching your word limit it’s time to start building to that dramatic moment.
End A Chapter On A Dramatic Moment
Ending your chapter on something intense and strong, without resolving it completely, is the hook for your reader to keep going into the next chapter. You’re aiming for “unputdownable” essentially. You want them to need to keep reading.
If you end a chapter on a dramatic moment, you still need to find a way to keep the reader hooked. So for instance if you have a big fight scene, the conclusion of the fight would be a natural stopping point. Try to conclude the fight whilst leaving something open to draw them on.
In Nature-Girl Vs Worst Nightmare, the middle chapter is a big fight scene between the teachers, the children, and the monsters. When the battle concludes, the children are sucked through a portal. Even though the chapter has finished, it makes you want to keep reading. You want to find out where the children have been taken.
End A Chapter Without A Complete Close
If the dramatic moment you’re building to is too far away to by the end of your chapter naturally, don’t rush it. Don’t cram it in so you’re cutting yourself off short.
The important thing about ending your chapter is ending it in a way that makes your audience want to keep going. For instance, if you end your chapter by sending your character to bed, it’s a complete close. There’s nothing drawing your reader to keep going. he character has no active conflict. Nothing they’re doing will make your reader want to find out what’s coming next.
However, if your character goes to bed and then you reveal to your audience that somebody is outside the house before ending your chapter, that will make them want to keep reading.
End A Chapter By Building To It
The end of the chapter is a natural moment for your reader to put the book down. You’re competing for the attention of your reader with their desire to go to sleep or get on with a task. You have to try and win that fight by luring them to keep reading further.
When you feel yourself getting to the end of the chapter, give your character something they’re either thinking about or wanting to do, or something external that will impact them soon. Your will audience want to come back and find out the result of that.
Do Chapters Matter?
In theory you could do away with chapters all together. Some writers do and just write a continuous story with no breaks. However, that can have the effect of making your reader feel like it’s arduous and never ending. When you reach the end of a chapter it feels like completion. It’s a satisfactory unit of story that allows the reader to feel like they understand what’s going on.
If the chapter feels too long it’ll start to become tedious. If it’s too short it’ll feel a bit sudden and disappointing.
Ultimately, chapters can be as long or as short as you want. They can be consistent or varied. It depends on your own personal style and your audience will either embrace it or not. But trying to keep your reader hooked so they want to keep reading should be something you aim for no matter the length of the chapter.
More From JJ Barnes:
I am an author, filmmaker, artist and youtuber, and I am the creator and editor of The Table Read.
You can find links to all my work and social media on my website: www.jjbarnes.co.uk
Buy my books: www.sirenstories.co.uk/books
Follow me on Twitter: @JudieannRose