We’ve all seen chapters that are long (HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins, first chapter is 28 pages) and chapters that are short (AS I LAY DYING by William Faulkner, Vardaman’s third chapter is 5 words long, My mother is a fish.).
Some variables when formatting your chapters are length, name or number your chapters, prologue or epilogue, single or dual voice. Should the novel be divided into parts?
You, as the writer, make these choices, but there should be a reason behind them. Are your chapters long because you’re stalling at getting to the main point? To name or number your chapters is a creative decision. Is there a reason for your prologue or epilogue? Could that information be incorporated into the novel? Does a dual voice serve the novel? Breaking your novel into parts may be a necessity, especially if it involves different times, places or narratives.
Once you’ve made those decisions, it’s time to fill the pages within your chapter. Start with a great opening line to grab the reader’s attention, but it’s more than that. Besides advancing the plot, your chapter should have an “arrow of intention;” where is it going? Did you give the reader something to worry about at the start of the chapter? Did you resolve that worry only to give the reader something else to worry about?
Some chapters end with its natural conclusion, others use a cliff hanger that leave the reader with a question, worry or fear for the main character. Use whatever ending you feel will make the reader want to continue reading.
There are no set in stone rules for chapter writing. Knowing this may cause a delightfulness (feeling free to write the chapter you want to write) or delirium tremens (from the sudden withdrawal of having to know and follow the rules). Hopefully, the former!