Outlining and Structure, Writing Tips

Chapters: Why Are They Important?

There are many components to writing a book, but few as daunting for over-writers like me as figuring out how in the world to divide your book up into chapters- either once it’s written, or during the drafting process. This post and next week’s are inspired by author Kim Chance’s recent video.

“But, Claerie,” you’re thinking, “you just added another monkey wrench to this already impossible process! Do you really think I need something else to worry about?” Right?

As if coming up with, writing, and editing a novel isn’t complicated enough, unless you’re writing a short story, you’ll likely want to slice and dice that monstrous, glorious manuscript of yours. Why? Well, a few reasons:

  1. Focus: I talked about this a little bit before in my post about staying focused when writing, but I go into writing a large project by taking it apart in small chunks. Each chapter is like a puzzle piece, and when they all come together, the picture is complete. There is no set word/page limit on chapters, but mine are usually between 3k-5k long and span over one or two important events in the story. Thinking of each chapter as a piece of the overall picture helps me to concentrate on only a few plot points at a time, making them shine as much as I can. It also helps me feel more easily accomplished because instead of thinking, “I’ve only written 13k of a 75k story,” I think, “Yay, I’ve finished four chapters-now let’s make it five.”
  2. Point of View Change: If you have a book with multiple plot points happening to different characters at the same time, or you have a book where the point of view alternates, chapters are a good way to alert the readers to those kinds of changes without confusing them. It can also help avoid “head hopping” between the thoughts and actions of your main cast.
  3. Passage of Time: If your story takes place over a six-month or year time span, or really, anything longer than a few weeks, you’re likely not going to need to show every single day, hour, and minute of that stretch. Chapter breaks are perfect for skipping over the boring, unnecessary  parts while indicating that a significant amount of time passes between page 35 and 36.
  4. Location Change: This one might seem obvious, but if the first three scenes take place in a school, but the fourth takes place in a park, back alley, pet store, etc. that might be a good time for a chapter break.
  5. And, finally, my favorite reason to create chapters: Conflict: Chapter breaks can also be used to heighten suspense; either with a cliffhanger, a  time jump, or maybe just to give readers a breather during a particularly emotional scene. (Yes, scenes can stretch over more than one chapter, but that’s a discussion for next week.)

Challenge of the Week: Why do you think chapters are important?

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