A novel is a difficult thing to read directly through from beginning to end. Chapter divisions form an important part of novel construction, one that governs how a reader perceives the story and instructs the reader in the best way to consume it. Effective chapter construction provides the reader with the cue he needs in order to enjoy a story. Chapters must be the right length, contain the right mix of subject matter, and control the pacing of the story. No hard and fast rule governs any one of these aspects, but there are several “best practices” that can make a chapter more or less effective.
The importance of a novel’s opening chapter cannot be overstated. When a reader starts on the opening words of the opening paragraph of the opening chapter of a novel, one of two things is happening: 1) the reader has already committed to reading your book, or 2) the reader is trying to decide if he wants to read your book by examining how it starts. In both cases, this is the right time to put your best foot forward and show the reader what you’ve got.
If the reader has already purchased your book, he’s made a commitment to you as a writer. You have his money. He is looking for an immediate return on that investment. The reader wants to know that he has made a wise choice by purchasing your book, and he wants to know right away. The opening of the book is just the right place to reward that purchase by plunging the reader directly into the web of intrigue and drama that lies under your carefully woven plot. There will be time for subtlelty later, engage your reader in the good stuff right away. Open with a car chase. Stumble upon a dead body. Realize to your heroine’s dismay that her ideal lover loves someone else. Whatever your tactic, by the end of the first chapter your reader should be glad he’s found the rare treasure that is your novel.