Monday, September 20, 2010

A New Chapter

Readers and beginning writers often ask me questions about book chapters.

1. How do you know how long to make a chapter?

2. How do you know when to end a chapter?

3. How do you determine the number of chapters there should be in a book?

In reality, there is one answer suitable in replying to all these questions: It's up to the author.

However, there are some factors the author will take into account in making her own determination regarding the length of chapters, number of them in a book and how to end her chapters.

1. Length of chapter. Sometimes the author needs to take into account a format a publisher may use in all the books it produces for a certain line the book may be a part of. In this case, the format will determine the length of the chapter.

Genre also plays a factor in determining the length of chapters. Books which are suspenseful may use shorter chapters to help imply a sense of urgency. Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code" comes to mind. Some of the chapters in that book are very short, and, of course, the book is quite suspenseful.

2. Ending a chapter. The end of a scene is a good place to end a chapter. The end of an event is too, so is a change of setting or a change of point of view or a dozen other happenings in a story.

The only hard and fast rule which should be considered in ending a chapter is this: end with conflict. If a chapter doesn't end in a way which entices the reader to continue, he may close the book. Don't want that!

3. Number of chapters. Just as in determining the length of chapters, publisher format and genre may determine the number of chapters in a fictional book. If these factors are not necessary for consideration, then number of chapters is totally the choice of the author.

Of all the "rules" of writing, essentially there are no rules for chapter length, format of chapters and number of chapters in a novel. The author can pretty much do what he wants.

However, as in all aspects of book writing, it is always wise to keep the reader in mind when setting up chapters. Too much inconsistency in formatting chapters can unsettle and frustrate a reader while classic style, evenness of pace and an engaging flow to the story compel the reader to continue reading.

Book writing is a terribly complicated process, and setting up chapters, as professional writers know, is pretty far down the list of things they are thinking about when they are undertaking the job of writing a novel.

Nevertheless, people have a few questions about chapters, and I hope I've answered to everyone's satisfaction today. If I haven't, please leave a comment with your question, and I'll get back to you.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

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