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How do you divide chapters?

Crumbly Writer

We've discussed this previously (on the old forum), but since it's been raised a few times, I thought it deserved it's own discussion here.

Do you, as an author, write a set number of words, try to include a particular passage of time, cover a specific event, or do you try to set up a single conflict (whatever it might be) and resolve it by the end of the chapter, regardless of how many words it takes?

When I started, I aimed for 6,000 words (mainly because anything over 10,000 words on SOL typically broke in random places. I've always been careful about making each chapter distinct, with a clear issue/resolution while leaving the overarching conflicts unresolved, but I'm now working on making my chapters shorter (by about 2/3rds), so it leaves me with much shorter chapters.

But I handle chapters the same way I handle books. I divide books based upon their message. Each book/chapter should convey a different message to the reader. In books, it's a life lesson about life, in a chapter, it's something the characters have to overcome, or come to understand. Once I have this 'theme' in mind, I'll base the entire book/chapter around it, reinforcing the idea throughout, and leaving off anything which doesn't address the basic idea.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

Never by word count.

I might include two or more scenes within a chapter when they're small, but that's the only time word count comes into play.

So when do I start a new chapter? Well, when it feels good to do so. I'm not being facetious. A lot of what we do is done because it just feels right when you're writing it. But here are some principles:

1. When the time or place changes. Now you can have a transition within a chapter, like "Later that day..." but if it's a different time (or place) it's often a good time to start a new chapter.

2. When the POV changes (in 3rd-person limited). You can be right in the middle of action. I did that in my novel. Something was going on in the guy's POV and, right in the middle of it, I'd start a new chapter in the girl's POV. It's not really a cliffhanger, although maybe it is.

3. When the scene ends. A scene has a beginning, middle, and end. When it ends, it's time to move on to the next scene which is typically a new chapter.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

So when do I start a new chapter? Well, when it feels good to do so. I'm not being facetious. A lot of what we do is done because it just feels right when you're writing it. But here are some principles:

Sorry, Switch, but your chapter break decisions are all based on why you include section breaks (you can include multiple POV changes in any chapter, as long as you include section breaks).

I can understand 'doing what feels right', after all, we don't all analyze and plan what we do ahead of time. I think I'm a bit odd, in that I plan out each chapter, rather than simply writing it. I don't know how a chapter will unfold in advance, but I know what each chapter will deal with. However, you're right, it's more common that a chapter focuses on a single day than that it resolves something.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
El_Sol

I 'plan' out the chapters and what happens in them, both action and plot. Each chapter is a full step in the Main plot or the sub-plot that is presently center stage.

I do very rough outlines so it usually ends up that you could summarize the chapter in one sentence, but you can see how each chapter moves forward to the end.

Prologue -- we meet 'Nobody' as he rescues cheerleader from a pummeling and it is obvious he is a 'superhero'

Chapter 1 -- cheerleader is curious about 'Nobody', pursues him at lunch and between classes.

Chapter 2 -- she fucks him.

Chapter 3 -- his 'friends' want to know what is going on, he deals with repercussions of a nobody sleeping with a cheerleader.

Chapter 4 -- through interactions in 3 he finds out something bad is going to happen to teacher x -- he rescues her

Chapter 5 -- teacher x likes being the damsel in distress she fucks him

Chapter 6 - his social life expands which puts his nobody friends in crisis, they plan a school shooting, he finds out about the plan but cannot preemptively stop it without risking things spinning out of HIS control

Chapter 7 -- the mass shooting ... He missed people they wanted to kill, the leader of the group (his best friend) figured out what Nobody is and decided to give him the 'tragic' origin story by making him kill his best friend.

Epilogue -- not a hero, just Nobody.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@El_Sol

Chapter 1 -- cheerleader is curious about 'Nobody', pursues him at lunch and between classes.

Curious detail. While I don't prepare chapter outlines, and frequently wait months before writing anything, one of the first things I do is start naming my characters, just so I can get to know them.

After panicking at the last minute too many times, I'll typically:
1) Name the main characters (required for step 2)
2) Write the story description (so I keep the main objective in mind)
3) Create the cover (it gives me a feel for how the story is perceived)
4) Prepare the internal graphics (required for creating chapter files)
5) I format the final document.

That way, when I reach the end, I don't have to worry about all the forgotten last-minute details.

Replies:   Dominions Son  El_Sol
Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

After panicking at the last minute too many times, I'll typically:
1) Name the main characters (required for step 2)
2) Write the story description (so I keep the main objective in mind)
3) Create the cover (it gives me a feel for how the story is perceived)
4) Prepare the internal graphics (required for creating chapter files)
5) I format the final document.


How do you format the final document before writing the story?

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@Dominions Son

I use a standard formatting, change all the titles, sources, etc., then I just need to add chapters and I'm set. By doing it in advance, not only do I reduce headaches, but I can print a fully formatted hard copy or epub version anytime I need one. I also keep it updated with the latest versions so that, if anything were to happen to me, my family could publish it for me.

As far as formatting the text, I do that as I write the story.

By the way, in case I never mentioned it, I'm kind of anal about control. 'D

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

By the way, in case I never mentioned it, I'm kind of anal about control. 'D


I hadn't noticed. ;-)

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

Sorry, Switch, but your chapter break decisions are all based on why you include section breaks (you can include multiple POV changes in any chapter, as long as you include section breaks).


I said if the scenes are small I'll combine them in a single chapter. That's the one time I consider word count.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

I said if the scenes are small I'll combine them in a single chapter. That's the one time I consider word count.

Just wanted to clarify, as it sounded like you were suggesting authors not use section breaks.

Ernest Bywater

I sort of cheat in that I use chapters and sub-chapters as well as sections. I break chapters and sub-chapters when the current set of events of interest for that chapter are over. That can be done in as little as 100 words or as much as 10,000 words - it all depends on what's happening and what is a natural break point. An example of what I mean is:

Chapter - College Life - covers the arrival at college and the start of life there.
Sub-chapter - Freshman Year - covers the events in that year.
Sub-chapter Sophomore Year - covers the events in that year.
I hope you get the trend of the next few sub-chapters
Chapter - First job - relevant info re getting the job etc.

Each ends at the natural break point for that chapter or sub-chapter based on the events within in it.

...................

Now, where things get different for me is within the chapters and sub-chapters I'll use section heading to help identify important event items.

...............

As to what is posted at SoL - those breaks are not based on the same sort of events etc as the chapter and sub-chapter breaks. I manipulate the SoL posting parts to incorporate one or more chapters and / or sub-chapter to have a word count in the 5,000 to 10, 000 word range. This is a totally different division of the story to the chapter division.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
El_Sol

@Crumbly Writer

Character sheets are separate.

I usually give them role names first before deciding in story names, thus in then rough outline she is 'cheerleader' but that becomes 'Devon' when I flesh the outline out. If fleshing out is needed, in the 'she pursues him' chapter that is needed but not so much for the 'she fucks him' chapters.

Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

I sort of cheat in that I use chapters and sub-chapters as well as sections. I break chapters and sub-chapters when the current set of events of interest for that chapter are over. That can be done in as little as 100 words or as much as 10,000 words - it all depends on what's happening and what is a natural break point. An example of what I mean is:

Chapter - College Life - covers the arrival at college and the start of life there.
Sub-chapter - Freshman Year - covers the events in that year.
Sub-chapter Sophomore Year - covers the events in that year.
I hope you get the trend of the next few sub-chapters
Chapter - First job - relevant info re getting the job etc.

Those are normally seen as Sections, chapters and then segments within the individual chapters.

Since college normally takes longer than a couple chapters, I'd typically dedicate an entire book to someone's college experiences (unless it's all tell):

Book: College Life
Section I: Freshman Year
Chapter 1: Moving In
Chapter 2: Meeting New Friends, and a Few Frenemies
Segment 1: Meeting Friends
Segment 2: Meeting the pseudo-friendly
Segment 3: Meeting Cuties
... etc.

I don't use Section breaks often, and when I do, I like to add more than SOL supports (summary text, in my currently posting book, quotes fitting the chapters). However, I've learned that most readers won't read Section Headers, just like most (30% for sci-fi, much less for other genres) won't read Prologues, though everyone reads the final epilogue.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

I've learned that most readers won't read Section Headers


Some do and some don't, but I use section headers within a chapter and find they make a better break within the chapter for many situation, and they also provide a more obvious mark for when putting the story aside for the night.

In your example what you call Section I is what I'd have as the chapter and what you have as the chapters I'd have as sub-chapters, then the rest as they are.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

In your example what you call Section I is what I'd have as the chapter and what you have as the chapters I'd have as sub-chapters, then the rest as they are.

That's what I was saying. Sections are typically groups of chapters (in the few published books which feature them). In SOLville, you signify it using { t }, which creates a category group to include other chapters under.

I wouldn't call yours "section breaks", maybe "subsection breaks" because they're actually sub-chapters.

I'm not criticizing how you organize your story, but I think your terminology might confuse others.

But it brings up an important point, breaking stories up into alternate organizations, either sections (groups of chapters) or subsections (groups within chapters).

Thinking of it, I can see where the confusion arises. You're creating sections to group your published chapters under, but you're using SOL chapters to house them, which results in your conflicting terminology.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


Thinking of it, I can see where the confusion arises. You're creating sections to group your published chapters under, but you're using SOL chapters to house them, which results in your conflicting terminology.


CW,

There are two aspects of this, one is the story itself, and the other is the way it's posted to SoL. I'll deal with both.

Story Breaks: I use the system used in writing technical reports, assignments, essays, manuals, and academic writing. You have a Chapter and within that you have Sub-chapters and Sections within that. Sometimes you may not have a need for Sub-chapters or Sections. Chapters and Sub-chapters start on a new page while a Section only has a heading in bold in the text.

An example would be along the lines of:

Book: Motor Vehicle Maintenance

Chapter: The Engine

Sub-chapter: The Ignition System

Section: The Distributor

Section: The Generator

etc., etc.

An example in a story would be:

Book: Fred's Life in 10th Grade

Chapter: Week 1

Sub-chapter: Monday

Section: Walking to School

Section: Home Room

Section: English Class

etc., etc.

SoL Posting: Early in my posting stories to SoL I found if I posted the story as one file it ended up as a bunch of pages, as shown with Rob Remembers this is a single posting of 52,990 words in 14 Chapters and 17 Sub-chapters posted as 6 pages at SoL. I could post each chapter as a SoL posting for 14 posts. However, some chapters are only about 500 words long while others are about 10,000 words long.

http://storiesonline.net/s/54159/rob-remembers

I like to give the readers a decent dose of reading with each post, so I arbitrarily break the story down into chunks of between 5,000 to 10,000 words with cuts at the end of a Chapter or a Sub-chapter. That way the current action event is over. This is the process I used when I posted Finding Home which is 272,743 words in 41 chapters and 82 sub-chapters and posted at SoL as 37 Posting Parts. Some of the Chapters run out around the 200 word mark and some around the 20,000 word mark, but the Posting Parts run out as described earlier.

http://storiesonline.net/s/66183/finding-home

I hope this helps you to understand my methodology of approaching this. Within the story the breaks are either time or event based, and within SoL the breaks are simple suitable story breaks aligned with a word rough word count point. By posting in Parts as against the actual chapters I don't do as much work because there's always less Parts than there are Chapters.

Perv Otaku

As with everything, it depends on the story.

If the general feel of events is homogeneous, just one big "stuff is happening" from beginning to end, it's fine to divide primarily by length.

If the plot is easily distinguished as "this happens, and then this, and then this", then it's more natural for each chunk of event to be its own chapter (or two to three chapters if especially long).

Sometimes this is especially easy, right now I'm writing a story that takes after "monster of the week" superhero cartoons, each chapter or "episode" uses the formula of a battle A-plot and a B-plot with fucking somewhere in it. Another story I have out there is similarly formulaic with the first four chapters, and then the final fifth chapter pulls it all together for the big finish.

With some of my longer stories, I can even divide them into arcs. I don't label things as such, but there may be a few chapters setting up things, a few chapters that end things, and various groups of chapters in between that relate to each other in a similar manner.

I try to plan things so that chapters are of similar length and each contains a sex scene. Doesn't always work out exactly. A chapter in one story is entirely a sex scene and I didn't have any other plot bits to pair with it like the other chapters had. Another story has two sex scenes per chapter, and splitting each one up would have been too disruptive both thematically and in terms of length.

Replies:   richardshagrin
richardshagrin

@Perv Otaku

If you name the arks, the first one should be Noah.

Replies:   tppm
tppm
Updated:

@richardshagrin


If you name the arks, the first one should be Noah.


Nope, that would be Ut-Napishtim, the Babylonian ark's captain. Followed by Gilgamesh in a later, per-Noaich flood and ark story.

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