Although I am pretty sure someone might have tried it, reading an entire book without chapters (or at least something to break apart the text) after a story is at least thirty thousand words might be maddening to read. This is why we have chapters and other ways to break up the text for normal length or greater novels, but the methods people use to decide how long a chapter is varies not just amongst authors, but even different books from the same author. Like every other conscious decision by an author, deciding how to break up your chapters is one more way to give distinction to your book, and highlight various aspects that constitute your novel.
Past blogs have discussed how to group your chapters, such as by characters, by location, or by event. Except in the case of the event this still does not control when you close a chapter. Authors typically choose different things to end chapters such as trying to tell a series of short stories (so the chapters need small beginnings, middle, and ends), building up to specific events or revelations, needing to always end on cliffhangers, wanting a resolution of some kind at the end of every chapter, or just a single scene imparting one specific piece of knowledge to the reader. There are also more esoteric ways to do it such as each chapter being a length of time (like a day, or even a week or month, think like what 24 did for TV), a specific word count, or some other framing device (like a story that each chapter switches to another one when a new protagonist is met so that the narrative has a constantly changing narrator).
Just like slicing a pizza can affect the dining experience, which of the above (or combination of them) you choose sets a certain tone for the book. Most authors use only a few of the above per novel, otherwise chapter endings can feel random and inconsistent. They may vary it up for specific reasons occasionally (such as suddenly doing a series of page long chapters when trying to build tension by showing a series of short scenes) but they will generally have some sort of structure that the reader can expect. The biggest combination writers often use is having chapters that are similar in length, and then use one of the other above ideas (scenes, small stories, cliffhangers, specific events, etc) as a framework besides just length.
When originally writing the next book in the Allmother’s Fire Trilogy, Rise From the Sun Below, I had “determined” that I was going to make most chapters roughly 5000 words. Like the last book that would help me know roughly how big the book would be and keep me on course for getting it done in a timely manner if I could do at least one chapter a week. In reality what it started doing was making me want to artificially pad the word count (a tendency that authors often have in the beginning of their careers anyway) and draw out scenes past their normal termination point. Most of the time in my chapters for this book I am doing two to three scenes a chapter, and each one points to a bigger theme or revelation. I am combining several of the above techniques, and since many of the chapters fit within swashbuckling genre, they often end in a cliffhanger. I finally decided sticking to those guidelines, as opposed to a specific word count were better for the health of the novel.
Reaching for a word count of any kind is dangerous for anything but a college paper. It encourages people to use more words to explain simple concepts, and sets the bar higher for when people try more professional avenues of writing such as journalism or novels. Both of those mediums prefer high word economy and are almost diametrically opposite to what school papers encourage. Therefore although similar chapter size might help with familiarity, it is better to set a general range for you chapters then a true uniform size. Even with that advice, I recommend erring on the side of shorter chapters if you have already relayed all the information you need to do in a chapter. Few people want a pie with eight inch crust because you ran out of the actual cheese and toppings.
In other news, the final day of the #RoadToWorldcon is today, and there are still the following novels you can get FREE today:
FIRST CHOSEN – (Fantasy) by M Todd Gallowglas
• ONCE WE WERE LIKE WOLVES by M Todd Gallowglas
• ARMS OF THE STORM by M Todd Gallowglas
• HALLOWEEN JACK AND THE DEVIL’S GATE by M Todd Gallowglas
• ELEGY (Fantasy) by Christopher Kellen
• THE HERO ALWAYS WINS – (Fantasy) by Robert Eaton
• THE FALL OF HOUSE NEMENI by M.D. Kenning
• MANDATORY PARADISE by M.D. Kenning
• KNIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD by Stephen E. Moore
• KNIGHT TERRORS by Stephen E. Moore