How do I know where to break for a new chapter when writing a novel?

I wouldn’t spend too much time worrying about this in early drafts. Let the story come out how it may. (You’re bound to find chunks that fit together as you write, as well as comfortable points of closure. You can mark them as possible chapter breaks.) When you have a better idea of the whole, natural breaks in the action can be more apparent. This might mean a chapter unfolds as one long scene. The second chapter in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, for example, follows Nick and Tom on a trip into New York City. Tom’s mistress, Myrtle, joins them. The chapter begins on the train to the city and ends with Nick at the station waiting for the 4am train back home after a rather eventful party. Some chapters will include more than one scene and you might find certain scenes or information hang together well to create a whole, cohesive chapter. In general, find a pause in the rhythm of the story—those moments are good places for chapter breaks.

Of course, plenty of writers do the exact opposite and break a chapter at a particularly intense moment. This is a good way to get the reader to plunge head long into the next chapter. Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code relies on this often. If you do this regularly in something other than a thriller, however, it may start to feel gimmicky.

The end of a chapter should offer some sort of invitation forward. This might come in the form of an overreaching curiosity. In the first chapter of The Great Gatsby, Nick hears talk of Gatsby, his neighbor who he’s not yet met, and then sees just a glimpse of Gatsby in the evening as he returns home. The mystery surrounding this elusive character leaves the reader eager to read forward and learn more.

Some writers have found it useful to abandon the use of chapters all together, as Nelson Algren did in The Man With the Golden Arm. You should have a good reason to do so, though. With the wrong material, it can feel like an unrelenting read.