Chapters probably began during the beginning of story-telling, with one chapter being what the story teller had lined up for the night. A one-paragraph chapter is probably what happened when the Story-Teller said, "No, I'm too tired tonight. Maybe tomorrow." but the listeners kept begging him.
Sometimes used to separate parts of the plot, sometimes used to give a feeling of in-and-out consciousness (See: Misery), and sometimes used by inexperienced writers who fail to deliver a better-fleshed out story and only have one plot point occur. Experienced writers will usually avoid this, working in the important, if not unrelated, subject into a new chapter that progresses the story at a good pace. Legendary writers (like Stephen King) can use the one paragraph chapter to a good use to better give a certain disconnected feeling in the story. (Or can use it because who cares if you don't like it, it'll be on the best-sellers list just from his name alone.)
It's interesting to note that not all one paragraph chapters are short. (Especially in Fan Fic where an entire story can be in one paragraph, if not one sentence.) A paragraph can last as long as it's talking about one subject, technically speaking.
Sometimes, a one-paragraph chapter can be used to describe a chapter that has more than one paragraph, but only had content enough to fill one paragraph. Filler descriptions, useless dialogue, and off-topic ranting might bloat the chapter, but all in all, plot-related things would fit in one paragraph.
The one-paragraph chapter usually leads to a sour taste in the mouth of a reader if they're going for the "One More Chapter Syndrome". Imagine knowing that your favorite book has 26 chapters (thanks to the table of contents), being at chapter 23, and then seeing all of chapter 24 (and even 25) in their entirety on the next two pages.
- Chapter 99 of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality:
Ten days later, the first dead unicorn was found in the Forbidden Forest.
- The very last chapter of Angela's Ashes is only one word: Tis.
- As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner:
- There's a chapter consisting entirely of the words "My mother is a fish."
- It Makes Sense In Context... if you've been able to follow the incredibly confusing existential philosophy-speak up to that point.
- Similarly, there's a later chapter consisting of Cash's two-line winding thought that the coffin wasn't balanced properly, ending as suddenly as it begins as he realizes no one is "listening" to him.
- There's a chapter consisting entirely of the words "My mother is a fish."
- Psalm 117 in The Bible is extremely short and only a few sentences long. This is especially highlighted since it's quite close to the incredibly long Psalm 119.
- The book Bumageddon: The Final Pongflict by Andy Griffiths has a chapter titled "Nothing". The contents are as follows: "Nothing..."
- The Captain Underpants series takes this to an extreme and turns in into a Running Gag: every book has a chapter called, "To Make a Long Story Short". Every book has what might normally be a long sequence condensed into three words, maximum. For example, the first book has a chapter that ends with the villain's hideout exploding. The next chapter consists solely of, "They got away."
- The Coronation: Afanasii's narration for 10 May ends with an angry Masa delivering a flying kick to the head after Afanisii accidentally mucks up their attempt to apprehend a kidnapper. The chapter for the next day, 11 May, consists in its entirety of "Saturday did not exist for me because I spent a night, a day, and another night lying in a dead faint."
- In Crooked Little Vein, an early chapter is a mere two sentences long.
An hour later, I walked into some freak bar on Bleeker Street and yelled, "I'm buying a hundred drinks - for me!"
Oh, they beat the shit out of me.
- In Ella Minnow Pea, letters get banned with each chapter. The third-to-last chapter only has Ella noting, to herself, that almost all of the remaining letters are about to be banned, and the second-to-last opens with her trying, with the remaining five letters, to again write to herself to keep her own enthusiasm up before she notices something her father wrote that can be used to get the restrictive government to un-ban all the letters.
- One chapter of the novelization of the movie Gremlins consists of two words: "Pete forgot."
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
- Played for Laughs in So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. After the protagonists decide on a trip to Los Angeles, a chapter consists entirely of an airport announcement noting that Flight 121 is about to depart for Los Angeles, "so if your travel plans today do not include Los Angeles, now would be the perfect time to disembark."
- An early chapter in Life, the Universe and Everything consists of a short Guide note commenting on Galactic history and the inanity of civilizations. It was removed from the American edition.
- The first chapter in Joe Hill's "Horns". In general, Joe Hill seems to be a fan of this trope.
- In the ninth chapter of John Dies at the End, the narrator Dave is trying to figure out what he did in the forgotten half hour between getting home from work and realizing he's standing in his living room holding his handgun with one bullet gone. He eventually realizes he locked something in his toolshed in the backyard, and after careful deliberation, decides not to investigate. The entire tenth chapter is as follows: "Looking back, if I had gone in and seen what was in the toolshed, I would have put a bullet in my own skull one minute later."
- Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. There's a chapter entitled "Who Created The Tone?" That ends with George W. Bush talking about how his election to the presidency would "change the tone in Washington". The following chapter is entitled, "Did the Tone Change?" It consists of one word: "No."
- Life of Pi has a few chapters with only one or two sentences in them. In fact, part two of the book has all of its chapters in an odd order so each chapter can focus on a different object or event in the story.
- Lolita has one in which Humbert asks his printer to fill up the entire page with "Lolita." He does not.
- A late chapter of Dave Barry's novel Lunatics consists of only one line from Horkman expressing his shocked, stunned disbelief. The opening line of the next chapter reveals it was because Peckerman threw up on Donald Trump while onstage at the Republican National Convention.
- The first Machine of Death anthology includes a one-sentence short story: "HIV Infection From Machine of Death Needle." - "Well," I thought, "that sucks."
- Ethel Merman and Ernest Borgnine got married on June 27, 1964, and separated six weeks later on August 7. In her memoir Merman, Merman included a chapter titled "My Marriage to Ernest Borgnine". It is a blank page.
- Stephen King's Misery contains a number of these, but near the end there is a chapter consisting of one word: Rinse.
- Jack Douglas' comic novel(?) My Brother Was An Only Child is littered with these.
- The Name of the Wind has the chapter "Flame and Thunder", which is about half a page long. It's used to emphasize an important moment of the narrator's life, and is justified, given the Framing Device.
- Happens occasionally in The Pale King. Chapter 17 is little more than half a page long.
- Machado de Assis' The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas, also as Epitaph for a Small Winner, has a few. Some force the definition of "paragraph".
- Ra: "Death Surrounds This Machine", which takes place in the middle of a fight between two highly super-powered individuals, and consists entirely of a description of one of the participant's (numerous) deaths.
- The entire first chapter of Savages is "Fuck you."
- An example where the chapter title is actually longer than the chapter: A recurring joke in The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift In The Equatorial Pacific had been the author's struggle with writers block. Chapter 16 is entitled "In which the Author goes deep inside the mind of the Novelist and expounds - for the benefit of future generations - on what it takes to produce Literature, the noblest Art to which many are called and few chosen." After this, the page is entirely blank until the lower right hand corner, which says "Moving on..."
- Sideways Stories from Wayside School: "There is no Miss Zarves. There is no nineteenth story. Sorry."
- The Snarkout Boys and the Baconburg Horror by Daniel Pinkwater includes many short chapters, the shortest of which consists of the three words "Anything is possible."
- One chapter in Something Wicked This Way Comes says simply, "Nothing much happened for the rest of the night." This comes right after the main characters have had a harrowing encounter with the Tarot Witch and right before Miss Foley falls into the carnival's trap, making it a Breather Episode of sorts.
- Put together, chapters 10 and 11 of Through the Looking-Glass (in which Alice wakes and the Red Queen becomes a kitten) have only 57 words. They each have a picture, too.
- Tamora Pierce's Tortall Universe: In the Beka Cooper trilogy, this crops up on two occasions. On one, our protagonist/journal-keeper has been awake far too long and can't stay up long enough to write down everything in her journal. In another, she's just drunk.
- Tristram Shandy has a few. For example, chapter five of the fourth volume is:
Is this a fit time, said my father to himself, to talk of PENSIONS and GRENADIERS?
- In the Twilight novel New Moon, when Edward and family leave Bella, there are several chapters where Bella says only "Nothing happens", to effectively convey her deep depression.
- Un Lun Dun, by China Miéville, contains a chapter whose title, "The Powerful Resurgence of the Everyday", is longer than its content: "Of course she was wrong."
- The Wandering by Roger Elwood. One chapter consists of just two sentences, simply ending with "Graita died".
- Wilkie Collins' "The Narrative of the Tombstone" in The Woman in White.
- Linwood Barclay loves using this trope, particularly when he needs to make an aside from the POV of the antagonist(s). For instance, in "The Twenty-Three", after the villain is revealed at the end of chapter 65, chapter 66 consists solely of the words "OH, shit".
- Worm: Interlude 27b, Scion to Eidolon, the entirety of chapter: You needed worthy opponents.
- The Slow Regard of Silent Things has seven chapters, detailing a week in the life of the Cloudcuckoolander Broken Bird protagonist. One is simply "On the third day, Auri wept."
- Concerned had a one-comic chapter that was aptly named "No Prospekts", where Gordon Frohman went to apply for a job at Nova Prospekt. He was turned away immediately.
- Gunnerkrigg Court has a one-comic chapter, that is implied in advance to involve a heist to steal Reynardine back from Annie's father. Instead, she just asks to have him back, and her father hands him back with barely a word.
- In Zero Punctuation's Top 5 Games of 2015, Yahtzee began by reminding his viewers that, as per usual, he would only include video games he'd actually reviewed. However, he had not reviewed Undertale, which was an extremely popular game, so before listing his Top games, he made a "review" of Undertale, where he said "Undertale is a good game". Roll Credits.