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Kent Graham <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Open discussions on the writer's craft <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 29 Sep 2005 09:42:41 -0500
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Mary Ross wrote:

>I'm recalling a problem I had in novel class <snip> How do you guys decide where to end/begin chapters?  Any tricks or
>just when it feels right?
You know, I think it just depends on the book, the audience, and your
overall structural plan.

I just finished a memoir-style novel that had fewer than 15 chapters.
The author broke between major life events and to facilitate long time
lapses.  On the other hand, a recent fast-moving mystery had more than
20 chapters, some of which were just a few pages long.

Lindsey Davis, Diane Mott, and a couple others whose names escape me at
the moment -- most of them writing with a touch of levity -- have had
one-page, one- paragraph chapters.

Some writers seem to deliberately make their chapters of a standard,
one-sittings' length, so the reader has a logical place to stop for the
night.  He: "Are you ever going to turn off that @#$@ light?!"  She:
"Just got to get to the end of this chapter!"

That said -- Matt's got it right.  For this reader, a chapter is a both
a reading convenience and a logical guide to the story's structure.  To
be both, a chapter needs unity -- sort of all about the same thing --
and it needs a logical start and an logical ending.  The beginning may
be a sequel to previous events, as Matt suggests, or it could be an
abrupt time/place/viewpoint transition.  In either case, a chapter's
most effective for me if it flows logically from that opening, and ends
with either the hook that Matt describes, or tidily (if temporarily)
wraps up a sequence of related scenes.  A kind of textual cadence, if
you will.

Then again -- who knows?  Chapters may just be the result of an editor's
page count.  "..18...19...20...New chapter!"