Chapters. Bleah

Chapters are useless.  They’re arbitrary divisions in a story that serve no purpose except to give readers a chance to put down the book and never come back.  Unlike acts, scene sequences, scenes, beats, and all the other narrative units, chapters actually work against structure and meaning: you have to bend the book to make them work.  

But they’re standard, so they stay.   And I’m about to print out the first act which means I have to figure out where the chapter headings go so I put in transitions between the @#$%^&* chapters I don’t want in there anyway.

The first act is now 30,115 words long, a huge improvement from 41,000 words.  I shifted a couple of scenes to Act Two, cut a lot more savagely, and dumped the investigations scenes completely and rewrote that section.  Just over 30,000 words gives me room to add things later as I finish the book, and if I don’t, I just have a faster first act.  Win/win.

And now I have to carve all that tight writing up with @#$%^&* chapters.  

The first chapter was easy: The first two parallel scenes that end when Nick sees Nita for the first time; 6131 words, which is long, but it’s a first chapter, so I’m good with that.  Plus it ends as Nita is walking toward Nick, so I’m pretty sure readers will turn the page.

The second chapter was also pretty organic: The scene sequence in the bar, ending when Nita leaves.  5888 words, which is good because each chapter should get shorter.  This ending is a little iffier because it’s an ending, not a cliffhanger, but since I have faith that readers will want to know what both Nita and Nick are going to do next, I’m okay with this.

The third section is all right.  It ends when Button shoots the bad guy, which is a good breaking point, and it runs 4687 words.  I want my chapters between four and five thousand words until I hit Act Four, so this is ballpark, but it means that the next section starts with Button saying, “Are you all right?” to Nita.

Why is that a problem?  It means that Chapter Four is the end of a scene–Mort showing up, going out to the porch, etc.–and then ends when Nita leaves the breakfast scene, now because she’s texted that the lieutenant wants to see her.  There’s nothing organic about that pairing or particularly strong about that ending, but it’s 4403 words, and that’s close enough for this stage in the book.  It’s gonna bother me, but since I know this act will change once I get to the end, I’m letting go for now.

Chapter 5 is Nita with the Lieutenant, Nick with the Mayor, Chloe with Nita, and Nick with Vinnie.  I’m okay with this because they both hit the road in the next chapter, so this becomes the start of their day, before they leave home base (the police dept/the bar) and start their investigations. It’s 4513 words.

Chapter 6 is investigations (completely rewritten), ending with their crisis scenes: Nick in Hell seeing the resemblance and Nita at the motel opening the box (that’s new, too).   It’s 4486 words.

Act Two now starts with the Max scene, which is actually a good place to start a new PoV since Acts are stories on their own, and Act Two starts a new story,, but I’m going to have mention Max more than the one time I have him in the first act now to establish him.

All in all, I’m much happier with this now, happy enough to do the paper edit and then go back to the rest of the book which is in pieces all over the place.  Also I have to clean because this house is a hellhole and Krissie arrives tomorrow.  YAY.  

And now, to the printer..  

25 thoughts on “Chapters. Bleah

  1. I am reading a book that has chapters of 2 pages, 25 pages, IDK how many pages because I am just reading……. The book is good, so I don’t care. Your book will be good, so I won’t care. And the end of a chapter is only an opportunity to put down a bleh book….. but then, so is the end of a paragraph…. or sentence…..or the cat wants something.

    Have a lovely time with your visitors. Love to all.

    1. Because scenes should flow into each other with no breaks; chapters chop everything up. And that would give me seventy plus chapters instead of the less than twenty I usually have.

      Acts would actually make more sense since they end in cliffhangers by design. Four chapters. Hmmm.

      1. I’m actually not sure how much attention I pay to chapters unless I really should stop reading for some reason but I don’t want to, so I make a deal with myself, “just until the end of this chapter,” and then I check how many minutes left in the chapter per Kindle. Depending on that number, I stop reading, or I don’t. Heh. So I guess not a lot of attention paid to chapters…

        Be a revolutionary. No chapters!

  2. Chapters? Chapters are as outdated as the catchlines in eighteenth and early nineteenth century printing, where they were afraid you might lose track of the sentence in the dreadful effort of turning the page.

  3. Aren’t chapters a vestige of serialised novels in newspapers?

    Non-fiction might have chapters because a chapter would have a new topic.

    Holy books too: the Bible and The Bhagavad Gita have chapters. An epic poem e.g. Ramayana is divided into 7 sections and section 8 that is an appendix. I guess those divisions are necessary as it has thousands of couplets.

    Sheherezade broke the stories in the middle and saved her life.

    If you wanted, you could do away with them. I’d think you’ve paid your dues and then some to get to do what you want.

  4. I find chapters useful when I’m a reading a book at work or somewhere else I have to stop frequently, just because it’s the least confusing place to pause. If you only want for 4 chapters or no chapters, I will make it work. There are always natural places to stop reading when there are other things that must be done; we can figure it out.

  5. Did “The Sound and the Fury” have chapters?

    I read it decades ago, and my brain would have me believe it was one long sentence. But that can’t be right, surely?

  6. I generally read past the end of a chapter if I have to stop and go do something else. They just don’t feel like natural stopping points, probably by design, because they usually break up a scene to keep you reading. I want to know how that bit ends, so I’ll go to the end of the scene and then (maybe) stop and do whatever else it is that needs doing. I have a hard time stopping reading, even if the book’s mediocre.

    1. I do the same thing! These days especially chapters are so designed to keep you from putting the book down that it’s actually easier to stop a few paragraphs into the next chapter, just far enough in that I don’t feel the anxiousness of a cliffhanger. >.>

      Funnily enough, this week’s Writing Excuses podcast was about chapters and pacing, the different choices authors make about them and why (along with a mention of acts originally developing so that they could change the stage setting). You probably could do away with them if you really wanted– Terry Pratchett managed well enough without them. I mostly just like chapters because “Okay, that quote I liked was in chapter 3” is easier to remember than, “I think I stopped reading around page 200, or was it 250?”

      1. I use chapters to make myself stop and go do something useful. So Pratchett is actually really hard for me – either I stop at each scene (sometimes that’s really short!) or i just don’t stop and then, oops, here I am at 9 pm starting my work day because i have a deadline I ignored.

  7. I find that a book without chapters feels like a page without proper paragraphing. It’s a breathing point.

  8. I never really stopped to think about it, but I actually like chapters. I think it’s tied to some anal-retentive need to track my progress in meaningless ways, like adding something I just did to my to-do list so I can cross it off. Which I do.

  9. This reminds me of a Nero Wolfe book (I think called Plot it Yourself) where at some point Archie Goodwin talks about how hard it is to decide where paragraphs begin and end and gives an example and says “Paragraph it yourself”, his point being that it’s part of your authorial style. (And indeed the two options are very different.)
    Which is to’say, if you want four chapters I say go for it.

    1. Oh, I love that book. When Wolfe deconstructs the writing styles of the suspects, I get all wonky.

  10. For what it’s worth, Terry Pratchett was asked about chapters, and said that he didn’t do chapters because life doesn’t have chapters. The interview’s here:

    I do like decent stopping points, but those are pretty easy to find in just about any book (the end, for example, is a great stopping point). After all, eventually I have to do laundry.

  11. Terry Pratchett is the only author who didn’t use chapters who I like and will willingly read. I may have been forced to read some in school but I’ve blocked them out.

    Any other book/author doesn’t have chapters? As soon as I figure that out, I put down the book and never come back. Really. It annoys me that much. If a book is good enough, I will read it in one or two sittings and chapters will not slow me down.

    Yes, chapters are a fairly arbitrary convention and authors are entitled to do what they want. I’m just not that author’s reader. I like feeling an ebb and flow within a book and chapterless books feel like the author is trying to “trick me” even if that isn’t their intention.

  12. I ignore chapters and scenes. I just quit reading when I’m tired. Sometimes mid-sentence.

  13. Terry Pratchett doesn’t have chapters? I’ve read almost everything he wrote , many multiple times, and I noticed. Clearly if all your readers were like me you could skip them.

    I do like well-done chapter headings although I can’t think of an example at the moment.

  14. I’m in the ‘I don’t even notice them’ camp. I start reading, keep reading, and stop when I absolutely have to or the book is finished, whichever comes first.

    When I read aloud to my kids I use chapters as an excuse to stop, but when they read to themselves they have a time limit before lights out, not a chapter limit – I’m pretty sure my mum had the same system for me as a child, so maybe chapter preferences are learned behaviour?

  15. If a book is good, then I lose all sense of pacing. I just want to read more and more and more, and chapter breaks make no difference at all for me. (And as someone mentioned, they are engineered that way these days, to catapult you into the next bit and prevent you from putting the book down.) I know I’ve read that Terry Pratchett doesn’t have chapters, but to tell the truth, I never really noticed the difference.

    Sometimes I need chapters, just so I can take a break and eat or go to the bathroom.

    But with a good story, it doesn’t matter at all. I just finished reading Salinger’s Nine Stories, and I couldn’t stop reading between STORIES in most cases. I just needed more of that good, good Salinger.

  16. I almost never put a book down at a chapter break. I am more likely to put it down mid-scene. So I have never really understood the point of chapters…


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