Saturday, January 2, 2010

Writing chapters

I suppose most writers prefer to divide their novels into chapters in the most logical places, along the story's natural "seams." As a reader, though, I am less concerned with that than I am with the length of the chapters. I prefer to read a book with fifty short chapters than with ten longish ones.

I'd like to hear from writers. How do you create chapters? Is it something you give much conscious thought to, or do you just "know" how it should be done?

Do you plan out the chapters first, or write the novel and divide it into chapters after the fact? Do you tend to group several scenes together in a single chapter if they involve the same character or group of characters? Would you ever break a single, very long scene into two chapters?

And do you take the number of words into account when deciding where to divide a chapter, or do you go strictly by the story's narrative elements?

8 comments:

  1. I write with an outline, so I already know where the chapter breaks are. Each chapter has at least a major scene of tension/conflict or an important message. Between one to three scenes make up a chapter. My chapters are always ten pages and under (making that 2,500 words and under). As a reader I don't care for longish chapters, so I don't write them either.

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  2. I am a big fan of short chapters so I can take a break when I want to and go, like yanno, pee or something.

    But you've nailed it. I am looking at my word count per chapter. Action based chapters, which are fast reads, I attempt to keep at a good length.

    I've had specific beta feedback on one of my chapters. The beta reader was very surprised at it's length, 6k. He said he could absolutely not stop reading and thought it was 3k.

    As to when to break the chapters: I use a loosey-goosey outline to help me with that.

    Great topic!

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  3. There are sometimes I just "know", but mostly it's a conscious thought. I like to keep my chapters 12-15 pages long, and my scenes tend to fit into that structure fairly well. Otherwise I will reorganize so I get chapters that fit my length expectations.

    As a reader I get irritated with uneven chapter lengths. I don't expect 17 pages on the nose every time. But 3 pages for one chapter and 25 pages for another is wacky (and poor pacing).

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  4. I've been focusing on scenes more than chapters. So I break when there's a change of setting or POV. In my latest WIP, these breaks occur every 1000 words or so, but I plan to consolidate these into longer sections during revisions.

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  5. Many of the 'how to write' schools state that you should vary length of chapters, though two page chapters followed by fify would feel a bit odd. And isn't some of this due to the readers attentions span or lack of it?
    Writing for older children, the same rules apply, but when writing for them, I need to finish each chapter on a hook, but I'm sure this applies to all novel writing, and this hook is something that comes very naturally to me. If the chapter is going to be too long, I look for an exciting moment which could be used as a chapter break, build up this moment, and then make the break.
    Many of the prize winnners from other countries often break all the rules, one Portuguese writer using very few full stops and yet the sense is clear and the punctuation is not missed. Amazingly clever and every page draws the reader in, so beautifully written that it was sometime before I realised how very different and brilliant this work was.
    It would seem you can break the rules, have few rules at all, if you are a gifted writer.

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  6. I write the book straight through and then put in chapter breaks at the end. But there are moments as I'm writing the first draft that I'm aware I'm creating a break in the action or a cliffhanging moment that will make a good spot for the next chapter to start.

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

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  7. What an interesting post! My chapter breaks just seem to happen. However, as I continue through my WIP I'm now choosing to leave them out and just write. I do have scene changes with each POV change so that helps to break it up for now.

    Elspeth

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  8. I like chapters to average about ten pages but through the years I seem to have developed a rhythm that feels right for when a chapter should end... on some point of tension, or cliffhanger. From my reading I find the length of chapters is often related to the author's voice and story pacing.

    NOTE: I draw your attention to a spam comment from 'worldstory' at 12:56 a.m. that you might want to delete.

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