You’re in the midst of the first draft and you may be asking yourself the wrong questions. First drafts are about discovery and hashing out the particulars of character, plot, setting and more. You’re figuring out some basics about the story. Don’t get too caught up worrying about what comes next. Instead, write the scene you feel ready to write.
Let your first draft be messy. Avoid chapter breaks all together. If the blank page is intimidating, don’t create one. Simply let the narrative unfold. You can note possible breaks as they occur to you, but you don’t have to. When you go back and revise, you can organize the manuscript into chapters. You may even find this approach helps you identify the most effective breaks.
A new chapter can be a fresh start. It might indicate a shift in time or scene or it may bring the reader into the perspective of a different character. But don’t get hung up on that just now.
Let’s say you’re at a point in the novel when Joan and Lester have their worst argument. You’ve just written Joan’s dramatic departure. She storms out of the house with bags in hand to stay at her sister’s apartment. Lester is left standing on the steps of the porch, the book he was reading when this whole argument started still in hand. You might have a sense of what is to come: Joan’s affair with an old flame. Lester’s long walks out of town; ones he doesn’t return from for days. But, what specific moment comes next? Joan at her sister’s house? Lester walking back into the empty house? Or a jump in time where Lester is on one of his first long walks?
You might not know what to cut to right after Joan peals away from Lester in their pick up truck, but that’s okay. Perhaps you’re thinking about Joan’s affair with her old flame. Start there. And perhaps you get stuck at the end of that chunk of writing, but you’re thinking about Lester’s first long walk. Go in that direction. You’ll be too busy writing to worry about what comes next. Once you have more first draft material, you can sort things out in revision. This approach may leave you with some holes to fill, but it may also suggest intriguing orders you might not have otherwise come upon.