Wednesday, March 24, 2010

In Which We Discuss Chapter Breaks

I think I've mentioned before that I don't naturally write with chapters in mind. I write in scenes, and the scenes are written chronologically, and clearly a few of them would be good as chapter endings based on the last line of the scene, but overall I don't put chapter breaks in while I'm writing.

Which means, of course, I have to do that later.

I think I finally got the scenes moved around and separated into viable chapters for Foxfire.

If you remember, here's what my scene blocking looked like before...


And here's what it looks like now, firmly separated into chapters.

As you can see there's no longer one giant chapter on the right hand side and the colors are spread out more evenly. I also added a few more scenes (one pink, one blue), reworked one (I took the prologue and moved it into chapter 3 or 4, can't quite remember which) and split a lengthy Quill scene into two.

Oh, since I forgot to mention this last time we discuss scene-blocking and there seems to have been quite a bit of interest in this technique I'll tell you what I put on each card.

In the upper right hand corner I wrote the scene #, in case I moved some scenes around, but then wanted to put them back in their original order. On the left hand corner I wrote the number of pages in the scene. On the blue cards, because they're from minor character POVs I put the name of the character the scene's POV was in. I didn't have to do this on the green or pink ones because green scenes = Fox, my male MC and pink = Quill, my female MC.

In the body of the cards I wrote both the first and last line of the scene. That way I could see if I was reusing any opening or closing sentences (and I was) and I could remember that I need to make each of these sentences as best as they can be and full of hooks and conflict.

Then below that I wrote a one sentence summary of the scene, just in case I couldn't tell what the scene was about from the first and last sentences. Something like "Quill is ousted from her village".

Of course, you can write whatever you want on the cards. That was just the information I found most helpful for me when scene-blocking.

Anyway, back to the chapter discussion.

I have a question for all of you who either write in chapters, or for anyone who has broken a novel out into chapters (which, I assume, would be anyone that has finished a novel)

How long do you make your chapters?

From a scene POV, you can see that all my chapters are about the same - 3 or 4 scenes, one of about each color. I purposely aimed for that because I like the symmetry of it.

But, a few of those scenes are only a few pages long (I do plan on fluffing some of them up a bit...) which means I have chapters (especially in the beginning) that are 30 pages long, and then chapters in the end that are only 9 pages long.

Do you think this is an issue? Would this bother you as a reader? As a writer? Would you even notice?

I'm just not sure if I should combine a few of the chapters just to give them a longer a chapter page count, even though it will mean giving those chapters a longer scene count. If that makes sense.

Thoughts?

How do you arrange your chapters?

P.S. - Don't forget to enter my 100 followers writing contest for a chance to win prizes. The deadline is 5PM CST Friday 3/26

35 comments:

Piedmont Writer said...

For the first book my chapters were pretty uniform, 12-15 pages each. For this book, I'm going with however the scenes lay out. Some might be 3 pages, some might be 15, truthfully I haven't gotten that far yet.

Christi Goddard said...

I have no organization skills whatsoever. I think of a plot, I create characters, then scenes develop in my head. I write nothing down at first. When the dialogue starts to come to me, that I write down. Eventually I start writing. I save each chapter as it's own file. When 'done' I put them all together in one master document to get a feel for length. Then I have a mini-stroke and start shaving. A lot.

Summer said...

I actually just make a chapter break when I feel like it. I'd say my average length is probably 13 pages, but then I have some that are closer to 25. When it comes time for revisions, I may try to fix it, may not.

As a reader, chapter lengths don't really bother me (except for James Patterson's mini-chapters. Tree killer.) I'm one who'll just stop reading in the middle of a sentence, but for those who like to stop at the end of the chapter, it would probably be nice for them not to drag on for 2487 pages, you know?

By the by, I'm so curious what your book is about...I love the names and the little drops...

laurel said...

I try to keep my chapters in the 8-12 page range, which means some chapters have up to 5 short scenes, some have only two long scenes, though on average it's 3 scenes per chapter.

I think the biggest change I made in this revision was to do a LOT of scene splitting over chapter breaks. It is an amazingly easy way to make your story a page turner. Include the scene rising action at the end of one chapter and pick up the scene climax and denouement in the next chapter.

Anne said...

as a reader i think it would be fine to have shorter chapters towards the end- i assume everyone's running towards some sort of climax, and so you'd want to be jumping POVs a little more frequently. I think it subconciously helps set the more frantic pace with the conflict

Tara said...

As a reader, chapter length doesn't bother me.

My chapters are relatively short for some reason? I'd say they range around 6-10 pages. A handful are longer, but not much.

I try to do like Laurel mentioned and end the chapters at a high tension period to keep things page-turner worthy.

Falen said...

GAH I wnt to SLAP Blogger and it's eating of my comments!

Piedmont - interesting. Did you plan out ahead of time that they would each be about 12-15 pages, or is that something you fixed in revisions?

Christi - mini-stroke sounds painful. But i do love cutting...

Summer - i'm conflicted because as a reader i either stop at a chapter end or scene end, but also am ok with just stoppign at the top of a page or wherever.
As for Foxfire, here's the one sentence summary i wrote prior to starting it:
A young man tries to survive the human-devouring demons of his forest home
It needs some work, but that's it in a nutshell.
do you Beta read?

Laurel - that is a really really good idea. I may try and split some scenes between chapters to increase the suspense

Anne - yeah that's true and i guess i don't have too much a problem with those 9 page chapters. It's more the 30 page ones i'm a bit worried about...

Falen said...

Tara - good to note. my shortest chapter right now is about 8 pages

Alexandra Shostak said...

My chapters usually end up somewhere between 2.5k and 3k words (which is.... 9-12 pages) but of course, I have a couple that are shorter and maybe one or two that are longer. I usually aim for uniformity if I can, but I don't worry if I can't fit every chapter into the same general length. I've come across books that have a 20 page chapter, followed by a 4 page chapter.

I think it all depends on the book. Yours sound pretty uniform in terms of structure. As long as you like the way the chapters lay out, and the way they begin and end, that's all that matters, I think :)

Also, what an interesting way to write/break into chapters. I'm a document splitter (meaning each chapter gets its own document while I'm writing the first draft) so I automatically have to make chapters immediately (which means a lot of cliff hangers lol). I've never thought of it this way!

I sort of want to try it...

Dominique said...

I sort of go with my gut on this one. I write a chapter until I feel it's time to wrap that chapter up and go on to the next one. Usually, that's after I dropped some story bombshell and shuffled up the potential future.

I don't scene shuffle, usually, because I tell the story in chronological order, so I don't get much room for moving. It's mainly either deleting or keeping, editing and reworking on my plot charts.

Kittie Howard said...

Really liked how you laid all this out. Very informative, helpfu. As a reader, I flat do not like chapters that run 20+ pages. And, before I purchase a book, regardless of how well-recommended it comes, I scan chapter breaks. I read a lot and have found that long chapters tend to have unnecessary dialogue (chatter), characters that don't move and too much description. I want a book with a clever plot or unique historical point that moves!

Falen said...

Alexandra - i've never thought about writing a story in separate chunks and then combining them at the end. Maybe in the future i'll give it a shot

Dominique - yeah the scene shuffling was new to me too, but most of the shuffling was minor character scenes that could, more or less, go anywhere within the story

Kittie - do they have to be chapter breaks? What about hard scene breaks?

E. Elle said...

As a reader, chapter lengths don't really bother me. I think they can be as long or as short as the author deems necessary. I do get frustrated when a scene drags on and on and I can't find a suitable place to stop so I can get to work on time.

When I was writing my first novel, I was really worried that my chapters weren't long enough. I feared people would read them and say they weren't novel material because they weren't twenty pages. But I know I needed to do what worked for me and the short chapters worked better. They kept the story moving and then when a nice, long chapter made itself known (more towards the end of the novel) it was a nice little variation that, I felt, would bring the reader back into the story a little more.

Good luck!

Palindrome said...

It really depends on the book, sometimes long chapters are cool with breaks somewhere in between and shorter ones are cool too.

My biggest problem, as a reader, is reading a book with long chapters and there's no good stopping point. I don't always have the time to sit down and read for an hour. I get 15-20 minutes tops and it's nice when there's some place to take a break.

I usually write short chapters. I don't like to dilly-dally. Speaking of dilly-dally, why don't people say that anymore...huh, food for thought.

Lola Sharp said...

I wish I was this organized. But I am just a go-with-the-flow writer...Someplace between what Christie said and what Dominique said. Which works for me. I don't focus on chapter length being uniform. I focus on it feeling right.

I think you can use asterisk drop downs to change scenes/POV inside a chapter, as long as it flows and moves the story forward. Sometimes authors abuse it and it becomes disjointed and clunky. Sometimes it is brilliant.

Thank God for Beta Readers of Awesomeness, is what I say.

Happy Humpday!
Lola

Southpaw said...

I read somewhere the best time to conclude a chapter is when something physical, mental, or something else(?) is revealed, so you might end up with one scene or seven.

It turns out that that was how I was naturally breaking up my chapters (more or less). My chapter sizes are not uniform, but this is still my first draft. Who knows what I’ll end up with then I’m done.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Wow! That's quite the system! I don't write with chapter breaks in mind. My initial chapters used to be horribly long, but now they're closer to the ten page mark.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I think you need to come over to my place (Minnesota, Montana...close enough) and we'll have us some yummy shrimp (my friend gave me a killer recipe) and you can do that cool color thing for my next book. Yep! I think that's a great idea. :-)

AchingHope said...

I do usually break my books up into chapters (except for one book, which I don't want to have chapters at all, but I don't know if I'll be able to get away with that), and they tend to be an average of 8 pages, which I don't know if that's too short.

But I love this idea of scene blocking. :D

Verif Word: woopp, how I feel about your contest. *woopp woopp*

Falen said...

Elle - well i don't think any of my individual scenes are all that long, so that's good. And the ones that are have breaks for a breather

Palindrome - i see dilly dally in writing but i don't hear people saying it. Well when you read Foxfire, let me know if you think any of the chapters or scenes are too long

Lola - yeah me too. I just put the chapter breaks where it felt like there needed to be onw.

Southpaw - that sounds good. Most of mine end when things have been resolved, but now i think they need to end right before that, so people keep reading

Stephanie - well it's a system that i seem to be making up as i go, so we'll see how it works out for me.

Shannon - it's a date! Honestly, the color thing was a lot of fun. The hard part happened once the color-coding was done...

Aching - LOL woopp! I have no idea if 8 pages is too short or not. I'd say no, but then my shortest chapter is 8 pages so what the heck do i know?

Les Edgerton said...

Maybe someone already said this and if so I apologize, but I might offer up another way to determine chapter breaks.

First, we're trained as readers from early childhood to expect chapters to end on a resolution of some sort--the end of a scene, usually. I would strongly urge against doing so and I'll explain why.

First, the average reader (not writers so much as the average Joe/Jane) often pick up a book in bed with the aim to read a bit and then drop off to sleep. If you end your chapters at the end of some kind of a resolution, they'll do just that. If you want to create a page-turner this is a bad strategy. Why? Because you've just made it easy for the reader to put the bookmark in it, lay it down, and grab some Zzzz's. Sometimes, never to pick it up again...

On the other hand, if you end the chapter in a non-conventional place--a place near the end of a scene, the average reader has no choice but to read on to see how it's resolved. And then... guess what? They're into another chapter and at an unnatural stopping place. Which means... they'll most likely read on. And, if you stop your next chapter in a similar place... the reader again has no choice except to read on. We're taking advantage of all those writers who ended chapters in "logical" places... and creating page-turners. I'll bet that if you look back on those books that you went to work the next day, bleary-eyed because you couldn't put the book down, you'd discover that's exactly what the author (or an astute editor) did. That's why even seemingly "quiet" books become bestsellers. People couldn't put 'em down and go to sleep.

I shouldn't reveal this--this may create more competitors and like I need that! But, it's one of the chief ways in which writers create page-turners. The books that end in coitus interruptus are the ones you go to work the next day raving that, "You've got to read this! I couldn't put it down!" That's probably why...

Even if you resolve the scene quickly into the next chapter--in the first paragraph or two or even in the first sentence--that "training" kicks in and it's difficult for the reader to put it down since they haven't reached that "natural stopping place" they've become accustomed to stopping at. It isn't "natural" at all--it's just how we've learned to read most books. (Except the page-turners...)

Hope this helps.

Blue skies,
Les Edgerton

Les Edgerton said...

My apologies! I went back over the posts and saw one I'd missed--Laurel's where she said the same thing I did. My apologies, Laurel.

Blue skies,
Les Edgerton

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'm about to embark on chapter breaks. Just got word that the editor is through with my book, so soon I'll be putting those chapter breaks in. Unless the editor made suggestions. Hope so!

DL Hammons said...

When I was starting out I sampled numerous books and determined that an average of 10 pages per chapter seemed reasonable. I generally aim for two scenes per chapter (which works out to an average of five pages per scene), but nothing is set in stone. I have also seen books where every scene is basically its own chapter, so a chapter could be just a couple pages long. Your editor will probably change it all up anyway. :)

Falen said...

Le Sigh. Blogger ate my comment again...

Les - it's so true about being trained to end chapters with resolutions. I will try and fight against that in revisions.
Also i have to say, your book Hooked was hands down the best book on writing i've read in years. Hands Down. Thanks for stopping by!

Alex - when your novel was out on s ubmission, did you have chapter breaks?

DL - yeah i keep trying to remember that it's not a HUGE deal. Certainly not as much as making sure i have a lot of conflict and a strong enough inciting incident. But still...

Teebore said...

Should have stopped by earlier, like usual. Blame Lost for capturing my imagination (and internet time) today.

I apparently need to put WAY more thought into my chapters than I currently do. I just call it a chapter when I'm done writing about whatever I'm writing about (that makes no sense).

I guess, thinking about, I don't make a distinction between scenes and chapters. MC talks to a character in a bar. MC leaves the bar, end of chapter.

As I muddle through Onwards and Upwards, I'll have to keep the distinction between scenes and chapters in mind (and then, of course, go back and change Fate Lost. Hurrah...).

As for chapters in books I read, I stop reading when I feel like, or have to, stop reading. Middle of the page, end of a chapter, start of sentence...makes no difference to me, as a reader. But I'm odd like that.

The only time chapter lengths really stood out at me was when I read the Da Vinci Code, and I got whiplash from turning the pages so fast because the chapters were so short. I swear, that book reads so fast simply because it's really half as long as its page count: the other half is the blank page at the end of chapter.

Piedmont Writer said...

In answer to your question, I knew they had to be between 12-15 because I was working with a dreaded 'formula'. But now I know better and am breaking all the rules.

Truthfully I think it all depends on you and where the climax is for each chapter. Make them want to go to the next chapter to see what happens.

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

Thanks for expanding on your method for organizing scenes. LOVE it! I have more detailed scene plotting ahead of me and I'll draw heavily on your ideas here, 'cause your method appeals to my sense of visual organization.

At to the question of chapter length, my knee-jerk reaction is I think chapters vary in length in all the books I read. I don't think you should worry about chapter length unless it becomes a concrete problem in the story's flow.

Write on, sista!

Falen said...

Teebore - OMG Lost last night was SO AWESOME!
Also i've never noticed any chapter issues in your work. And for Onward and Upwards, you do have a time shift so that's a clear chapter break

Piedmont - yeah that does seem like the best solution

Nicole - Yay for visual organization! I, too, am a visual person. If i had 7 different colored post its, i would have found a reason to use each color

SonshineMusic said...

I tend to write in scenes - the way it seems you do - with different perspectives for different scenes.

My only break from that thus far is the novella I wrote from first perspective. I had no trouble with chapter breaks there. They flowed naturally and, I think, worked well at making you want to keep reading. alas, novellas are extremely hard to sell. *sigh* because it is my favorite of my WIP (also because AchingHope and I are cowriting a series of them together defying all conventional wisdom).

But I may have to try the color coding to help me break up chapters in my other WIP once I've done my rewrite. Ugh.

Shelley Sly said...

Oh gosh, I was so obsessive with chapter length in my first novel. Each chapter was initially between 13 and 15 pages, with 6 to 8 scenes per chapter. With my second novel, I was really carefree. My chapters were all relatively short (2 to 8 pages) with only 1 or 2 scenes, and I had more chapters than the previous book.

I realized that I like reading books with shorter chapters, so as I've been rewriting Book #1, I've been cutting chapters off at earlier scenes and thus creating more, but shorter, chapters.

Love your layout with the colored cards. I'd like to try that.

Summer said...

Sarah, I've only beta'd a couple times, but I'd like to! Especially since I'm not working right now, I have enough time to devote to it! Your one-sentence pitch sounds good to me! Just lemme know...

Sharon Mayhew said...

I like books that have scene by scene chapters...I aspire to write that way...

Falen said...

Sonshine - how many words is it? Maybe it's not so much a novella as it is YA...?

Shelley - good to know i'm not the only one who obsesses over chapter length

Summer - i will probably hit you up for that, but not until i get a bit farther with revisions. But consider yourself On Call. And even if you go back to work, there's no rush

Sharon - hmm, i've never thought about making ech scene a chapter. I think that's a rare thing in adult fantasy

Suzi McGowen said...

I don't worry about chapter length (as a reader). Though I admit, in Stephen King's "Dead Zone" chapter 9 is only one sentence long, and I noticed :)

As a writer, I fret over chapter length. Though maybe it's one time when I should keep my reader hat on.

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