To Chapter or Not to Chapter

My distaste for chapters is well-known, but I always comply.  This time I’m thinking maybe not.  Nita takes place from Tuesday very early morning to Sunday morning.  I was thinking about going with Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday as headings to break up the book because that would help keep people oriented to the passage of time, especially since it’s a timelock plot (Nick has to become the Devil at midnight on April 2).   One problem, “Tuesday” would be 52,000 words. (It’s a long book.).   Sunday will be about 2000, so it’ll even up a little, but still, that’s a long first section, over 200 pages.   What do you think?

83 thoughts on “To Chapter or Not to Chapter

  1. I really like the idea. Could you split the days more, so you had Tuesday morning, Tuesday afternoon, Tuesday night, Wednesday morning etc? Some of those would still be awfully long but it’d be more balanced.

    19+

      1. Nope. It wouldn’t even annoy me if your broke up some days but not others. I’m guessing it would annoy you though!

        Do you have any scenes that take place both before and after midnight? If so, how will you deal with them?

        It would be really funny if Nick’s deadline were April Fools Day

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      2. Maybe breaking it up into more-or-less even chunks could underline how the pace accelerates.

        Starting out with “Tuesday 00:30” and going through to “Sunday 12:00” would, to my reader’s brain, help chunkify it like a chapter (and make me think Oh okay I can put it down at the end of this because the next section is a New Part) without necessarily feeling like an artificial separation.

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      3. Another not-annoying chiming in. In fact, in movies I love the “Cairo, May 8th, 6 a.m.” subtitles thing. I loved it in Indiana Jones. When place and time are important, why not just tell so one can get on with showing the real story?

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  2. I think that is useful for helping people keep track of where they are. I like it in Agnes and the Hitman/, too.

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  3. You don’t have to conform to the same breakdown for each day, right? For example, you can have Tuesday AM, Tuesday Afternoon, Tuesday Evening, Wednesday, Thursday 2 AM, Thursday Lunch, and so on.

    The only problem I see is the break to settings that are outside of Earth’s time frame. I guess, though, if Nick is pulled into a “timeless” meeting, it still occurs between events in human time.

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    1. I’m afraid too many different headings will disrupt the suspension of disbelief, pull the reader out and remind her that it’s a book. The thing about “Chapter One” is that it’s like “said.” People read it but don’t notice it. I think the days of the week might be like that, but once you get to two words, people have to slow down and make the connection and I don’t want that.

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      1. I think in a book with time shifts, time headings instead of chapters might be very helpful.

        I agree I don’t see chapter one or two but I actually like in some books the old fashioned way of labeling chapters. I think my favorite is still Understood Betsy – “If you don’t like conversation in a book, skip this chapter!”

        That’s not your style and it doesn’t work in many books, but it places the reader in the action.

        Even I who like complicated plot lines can get lost in a book with timeshifts. So, giving me the time in Earth or Hell time would be helpful. This way you don’t have to work it into the action.

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  4. I’m sure you can figure out how to make it flow. I don’t have a dogmatic attachment to chapters. I like the idea of dividing the story by chronology, since it takes place with the time and date being a plot point.

    But I loathe the modern trend to have a “chapter” that is no more than three or four sentences put in from the Cardboard Stock Villian’s point of view.

    Chapter 49

    He watched as she walked into her home. She never even suspected. Soon she would be his! Bwa-ha-ha-ha.

    Chapter 50

    Sorry. That isn’t a chapter. And it’s not suspenseful. It’s a trigger for an eye roll.

    9+

  5. I think it’s cool to shake up readers expectations a bit – especially when it reflects the authors perspective. This is the way you orient the story. Who says chapters have to be the same length. Aren’t they supposed to be chunks from similar times, perspectives etc (in film a scene is a set of shots unified by character place and time. Nothing about length. Hitchcocks Rope is one or two scenes depending on how you calculate it). And I don’t see what you have to lose. I don’t think a reader is not going to buy a book because the chapters divisions are strange for long. They probably won’t even notice. Once they bought the book not going to not read it because boy this first chapter is really long. Once the reading it the content will sell it even if they think it’s odd

    2+

    1. Chapters were originally the same length because they were stories that were serialized in magazines first. I don’t like chapters, but if I have to use them, I use them for pacing, starting longer and then growing shorter toward the end. But nope, there are no rules for chapters.

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    1. I usually stop mid-chapter, although with some books I find end-of-chapter works. I don’t like to stop when I’m being lured on, as most authors do at the end of a chapter. Especially when I’m about to go to sleep.

      5+

      1. I keep thinking I’ll stop at the next chapter, then theres a cliffhanging thing going on and I keep reading. After doing that a few times I end up just downing tools anywhere, chapter or no.

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    2. I agree, I’m a slow and sometimes distracted reader. I need to a stopping place so I can get up and do things, especially if I’m not on vacation, etc. But sometimes authors either leave blank lines to start a new section or put little symbols sort of like this ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~. It’s your decision, and you have more writing experience than me.

      1+

  6. I have recently discovered the value of chapters since my 8 year old Kindle started acting up and reseting itself to the beginning of a book almost constantly. I never remember which page I am on but I try to remember the chapter. One of the book I was just reading did not bother with chapters and by time I had narrowed in on the approximate page, it reset itself again. I finally had to finish the book on my laptop.

    It was a royal pain.

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    1. Doesn’t ‘sync to furthest page read’ work? Big brother is keeping an eye on where you’ve got to in case you decide to switch device, after all.

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      1. This is a kindle in the process of dying. It used to sync to the furthest page read but not consistently anymore. The light no longer works unless I press a particular spot. It won’t recharge the battery unless I have the connection arranged just so and then it will flick off after I’ve turned my back on it or the house settles at night. I just spent $50 on a humidor that I have no use for other than to polish the silver-plate lid and look at. And I can’t bring myself to buy a new kindle which I use all the time because my old kindle still works. Sort-of.

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        1. Buy an iPad and read off it. Seriously, you can do ten million things with an iPad, almost anything you can do on a computer, and it’s MUCH easier to read from than a Kindle.

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          1. For me, the Kindle is too small to read. You can dim the iPad but by the time I make the letters big enough to read on a Kindle, I’m get about a paragraph a screen. It’s one of the reasons I never use my phone. I can’t see it.

            3+

          2. I found my old Kindle recently and couldn’t give it away. Mollie and the kids didn’t want it–they’re iPad all the way–and Krissie had one. I think she took it to give to somebody else, but I can’t remember. I think I used it once and thought, “Nope,” and stuck it in a drawer.

            But they will pry my iPad from my cold dead hands. Despite it’s stupid name.

            2+

          3. I love my iPad, but my Kindle Paperwhite is my go-to. Light, holds a charge forever, and I’m not as worried to take it t places. And no blue light

            2+

        2. I just had to replace my Kindle because the battery couldn’t hold a charge for more than a day or two and sometimes the battery would actually drain while it was plugged in. Yours sounds like it’s in even worse shape. They almost always have a Kindle sale on Black Friday, and since it’s Amazon you wouldn’t even have to brave the mad bargain hunting hordes.

          1+

          1. Thanks. I will check it out. After Jenny reminded me about using my iPad, I dug it out of the kitchen drawer (I use it for recipes primarily) and am using it to read. I still think I want another kindle though. The one time I traveled with my ipad I kept having a lot of roving charges and it did not seem to work as well with the free hotel Wifi. Probably I was doing something wrong but it cooled me on using the iPad for casual reading when away from home. And I find my laptop easier to use for information searches than the iPad so this will give my iPad some mileage for a change.

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          2. To avoid roaming charges, just switch mobile data off on the iPad. I used my iPad Mini to read on, but switched to my Mum’s Kindle after she died because it’s lighter, and I was having problems with my wrists. It’s a better reading experience on the iPad (except for the glare), because you can look up so much more. But now I’ve switched to a full-size iPad I only use it to read illustrated books and magazines – it’s positively dangerous for my wrists if I try to read on it in bed.

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          3. I don’t have an iPad because Amazon devices cost less and make it easier to stream Prime. But I don’t really read on the Amazon tablet. Trying to read on that screen hurts my eyes after a while, and the blue shade only goes so far. Plus the battery dies faster than on a functioning Kindle. I have a friend who uses her iPhone. No idea how she can stand a screen that small, even though iPhone screens are pretty big now. It’s still tiny for a book.

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          4. I just discovered a major drawback to reading on my iPad. If I lay on my side in bed and try to read, the iPad gets confused as to which way is up and flips the screen on its side. I can only read in bed if I keep the iPad upright. So I guess another kindle is in my future. Amazon will only give me $5 trade-in value so I will follow Katie’s advice and shop the sales.

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          5. Hang on for another week. Amazon’s Christmas sales kick into high gear then, and I’m betting the Kindle will be on there.

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          6. Is there no option to lock the screen? Down in the right corner, there should be a lock and you close it and that should stop it from changing? Or maybe in settings?

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          7. Thank you, Salpy. I have not used it enough to check out all the options. This will make reading in bed much more user friendly.

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  7. Doooo eeeeet! If the text lends itself to that structure, do it.

    If you’re worried about readers, make a note like you did for Maybe This Time. It can read, “This book starts on a long Tuesday and ends on a short Sunday.” And have contents printed BELOW the note.
    Tuesday – page 1
    Wednesday – page 201

    I am now going back to read what everybody else said.

    1+

  8. I don’t want to care. The only reason I need some kind of break is to be able to take care of my kids. Like “mommy will do Q once she finishes her chapter. You can do it yourself or ask daddy for help.”

    But when this comes out, I’ll be dumping kid duties on my husband while I read the entire thing in one go anyway. 🙂

    5+

  9. Jenny, I have a couple of off topic things to mention, but first, I like the idea of replacing chapters with days of the weeks. It will be readable however you do it and I can’t wait till it comes out.

    First of all, I have to tell you I am currently listening to Bet Me (again) and I am having so much fun with the conversations between the characters; I am grinning ear to ear (and laughing out loud in between as well).

    The second thing I have is: Do you remember when you posted links to sites with fun socks (Before you started working on Nita and the Devil). My co-workers and I are going to do a sock exchange instead of doing Christmas gifts and I want to buy some fun socks. I remember there being a lot of fun, interesting socks on them. Would you, by any chance, remember what the sites are?

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      1. Thanks Jenny, I ordered a couple of pairs from Sock it to Me, (although I could easily have ordered more!). The sock exchange is 2 pairs each so I limited myself this time.

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  10. I don’t notice chapter headings, and I doubt I’d notice days of the week either, at least not until the second or third read through. I’m going to read this in one go, anyway, unless someone interrupts me and is not deterred by my glare.

    In theory, I like the idea of days of the week headings and I think it will help more observant readers keep track of the time.

    4+

  11. I like the days of the week division. If one day is extremely long, AM and PM would not bother me at all.

    The mathy part of me wonders what would happen if you just divided the book into even fourths or sixths, and see how that works.

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    1. It is divided into fourths–four acts–but they’re not of equal length; they get shorter to pick up the pacing.

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  12. I don’t think I notice chapter length but I bet I do subconsciously . It makes a rhythm. So that is probably more important than what you call them. If you want to have a long movement at the beginning and a super short one st the end go for it.

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  13. I like the days of the week idea. That would probably be helpful as a reminder. Chapters aren’t really something I care about except as a good place to stop reading. And honestly, a page break works just as well. The only way a lack of chapters would be annoying would be if there were no obvious places to pause.

    3+

  14. A friend is writing an alternate history where Rome never fell, from MANY character’s POV that goes sprawling across a couple years. Her chapter headings look something like:

    ARTHUR
    Three days before the Ides of August, 2167

    I

    (only centered, with the date in italics, which helps set it off from the Roman numeral.)

    The first couple chapters, it did grab my attention, but now it’s a way to know who’s talking, what part of the timeline we’re at, and the Roman numerals within the character’s chapter help set apart scene breaks and give it a sense of structure and pacing.

    Having read hers, and looking at what you’re asking, the days as chapter headings would absolutely work for me, and for Tuesday, perhaps including subheading or times of the day at scene breaks. Bad Example:

    Tuesday

    (text text text)
    (text text text)

    Breakfast at the diner was…..
    (text text text)

    The lunch hour rush meant the 10 minute drive took 28 minutes…..
    (text text text)

    * * *

    Example more like my friend’s doing it:

    Tuesday

    2am

    (text text text)

    Mid-morning

    (text text text)

    …. though once I write that out, the first thing my brain jumps to is how much it reminds me of “24.” I don’t know if that’s a parallel you want to avoid, or if it’s now common enough in police procedurals to have time stamps be noticed without throwing people out of the story.

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    1. I really don’t want anything that obtrusive. I like the countdown of the days, but no details that people might have to think about.

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  15. I like chapters. I don’t care what you call them, but I like having a book broken up into discrete units of about the same length.

    If there aren’t marked breaks (chapters) there will be times when I am reading looking for a place to stop “Going to make tea/go to the bathroom/cook dinner at the end of the… oh, no chapters, should I stop here? How about here?” which sucks.

    4+

  16. Seems to me some of my Brit mysteries, Golden Age, did with days and times. I like it. Days AND times. Seems all elegant-like.

    3+

  17. I normally stop mid chapter, and I don’t pay attention to the chapter numbers at all, so I vote for days of the week.

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  18. When I have to stop reading right now, say the phone rings, I use a book mark, easy to use to mark my place.

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  19. I’m another vote for some kind of time or chapter divider, mostly to help me “keep my place” as others have mentioned. I tend not to remember page numbers but do remember “chapter” numbers or titles.

    But I think those dividers also help me “organize” the book in my mind, maybe the way I still prefer analog clocks and watches, over digital ones because it puts the hour or minute into perspective.

    But I don’t mind either if you want to try out a no-chapter book. It could work!

    2+

  20. I love the idea. Frankly, I do use chapters as a mental stopping point, but not always. Sometimes I just have to stop where I stop. Since we don’t read the same all the time, I wouldn’t worry about being dogmatic about chapters. They aren’t stop signs; they’re optional. I use bookmarks, or post it notes, or whatever if I need to stop. I have to do that, even if I have chapters. 😉

    Hello everyone! I hope you all have been well. I’ve missed keeping up here.

    4+

    1. They have no narrative use, they’re just a vestigial tail from serialization in the 19th C.
      Put another way, scenes have a structure and a narrative use: they’re a unit of conflict. Acts have a structure and a narrative use; they’re a period of action that turns into another escalated sequence of action at the turning point. Chapters are nothing, they’re just divisions in a book. They have no purpose. They annoy me.

      1+

        1. I don’t see why.
          They don’t DO anything. If readers want a break to stop on, there are dozens of white space breaks between scenes. Other than that, they’re not helpful to readers in any real sense except tradition.

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      1. Cool. Now I understand. Given your druthers, would you make any other divisions than acts?

        I’m stuck in the memories of teaching stories like Catcher in the Rye, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and To Kill a Mockingbird where chapters were significant units. From what you describe, sounds like they were all written in the 19th century style: units to the extent that sometimes they could be used as standalone stories.

        I was wondering if chapters work better with action plots than with romance plots.

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        1. Technically, scenes are standalone stories. Acts are standalone stories. They have beginnings and middles and end in climaxes/turning points.
          The acts in Nita, for example, all end with the end of one part of Nita’s life and the beginning of another, even though the whole book is six days. (It’s a rough week.) The first act ends when Nita is forced to accept that the supernatural is real and she’s missed a huge part of the life on the island she thought she knew. That last scene on Demon’s Head with the smite is the end of Nita’s old life, a change that started in the first scene. Then the second act begins with her negotiating her partnership with Nick, which is not just a big power struggle but also a big personal struggle because she attaches to him personally, which is something she doesn’t do with her lovers. And that’s coupled with her discovering her personal history isn’t what she thought. So the end of Act Two is Nita’s acceptance of herself and of her relationship with Nick: she’s solved the mystery of her past and she’s connected to another person (who’s not her family) emotionally. It’s a complete arc.
          So I could see dividing the book into acts, that makes narrative sense. But then the first section in 36,000 words long and the second will be almost that long, and that’s too long for chapters. I could do a “Part 1,” “Part 2” thing, but why? I think it’s clear in the text.

          I’m not sure. I just know that chapters aren’t really helping this story.

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        2. On the chapters for action vs romance: I don’t think there’s a difference. A story is a story is a story. I would think it would depend more on structure. If it’s a story that bounces back and forth through time, I could see where section headings/chapters could be a convenient way to say “Hey, we’re going back a hundred years here.” If it’s a book structured on different narrators, I could definitely see a story broken into chunks of each narrator with the narrator’s name at top. An epistolary structure lends itself automatically to each letter being a chapter. But I don’t see any natural breaks for a chronological story beyond scene and act endings.

          Which, by the way, does not mean I think people shouldn’t do chapters. Other writers need to do whatever they want. I just don’t see why I’m doing them.

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          1. Then don’t do it. If no one ever messed with narrative, we wouldn’t have stories like Memento or the one where Seinfeld told the whole episode backwards. It’s art, and you know how to tell stories. You have compelling characters. You have a lot of things that are going for you in this universe and a lot of things that are going for you in this character development, and your story arc. I think you’re overthinking the chapters. Just do it.

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          2. I never know when Pratchett does it or not. The only time I really remember noticing chapters is when I was halfway through some book, and I realized that the author’s cutesy little quotes at the beginning of each chapter actually were quite important, at least for that chapter. I was so annoyed — I had to go back and read the rest of the quotes then, and try and figure out if I had actually missed something or not.

            I like the idea of those little summary things at the beginning of a chapter (I think Robinson Crusoe had them), but I wind up skimming through them unless they are quite clever — which they generally are not. The reality is really not worth the cuteness of the device.

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  21. For me, the main purpose of chapters nowadays is for the break. I see them like periods in punctuation or stop signs–places to pause before continuing. But whether the heading is titled a chapter or a day of the week wouldn’t matter to me as a reader. Both work. I’ve read books where the chapters are titled more as diary entries or other date formats, too. Think whatever works for you will work for readers.

    As a writer, I don’t use chapters either. I only go back and add them in at the end. Miraculously, there always seems to be a natural point for them, though, so I’m thinking there’s probably something in the writer brain that naturally sections story out of habit maybe even when we’re not trying.

    And just a note to Jane re iPad & wrist pain while reading in bed: You may try using a bookstand. That’s what I do. Just fab. It holds the weight, and since I just tap the screen to turn page it’s super easy. Thera are actual iPad stands you could get, but for me since I have several book stands they’re handy and save me the cost of buying something new:)

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        1. Thanks for adding the instructions Jenny. Yes, that’s what I do because I do use my bookstand to hold my iPad while lying down or sideways. Works like a charm. If sitting up, can also use a bed tray to hold the bookstand. Kinda fun, like being in one of those old movies where someone wakes the heroine with breakfast in bed. Only, you know, with books:)

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          1. I must look into bookstands, then. I didn’t realize they could work when you’re lying down. I use my new, full-size iPad all the time, and I am a bit worried that the weight of it will eventually kick off my wrist problem again – I’m pretty sure it was down to RSI from years of holding books, especially things like heavy dictionaries for work (the iPad, which has replaced reference books like that, is at least lighter than they were).

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