There is a lot of advice out there that covers the basics of book formatting. How many words should it be? Where should one paragraph end and another begin? Where should breaks in the story occur?
One of the more recent questions I’ve encountered is that of Chapter breaks and when they should happen.
I’m sure many of you have noticed that each of your favorite stories has it’s own format to the chapter. Some are a series of short chapters (such as most of Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle), and some are quite long (like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings). But what made the author’s decide to break the chapters up the way they did? What was the deciding factors?
While I cannot speak for other authors, I do know that I choose to break up my stories into Chapters when there is a good opportunity for the reader to take a break from the story. The fact of the matter is, that a well written story is an intensive experience. There is an emotional and mental investment that can be refreshing or draining depending on the content. Readers need those breaks in the story to give them time to recover.
Flow of Content
Another excellent reason to create these breaks in your narrative is to maintain a smooth flow of content. Having a chapter to divide your story is not a necessity, but if you want to write from varying perspectives (and perhaps locations along with it) then having a different chapter for each perspective can prove helpful for your reader to keep track of what is going on and who they are following.
To switch perspectives in the middle of a chapter could lead to confusion, or it can be jarring if the transition isn’t handled right. Allowing for the perspectives to be initiated at the beginning of a chapter will allow the reader to settle in on the character better than if it had switched without warning.
Keeping, Maintaining, or Creating Tension
Have you ever found yourself engrossed in a really good television show only to have it leave you wanting to watch the next episode immediately after due to the events that led to the closing scene?
Chapters can act much like an episode ending. It’s meant to create or even escalate the dramatic tensions your story has been building over the course novel. How often have you finished reading a chapter and it leaves you with just enough questions that you have to turn the page to find out what happens?
Keeping Readers Interested
This brings me to my final point. While all the above mentioned are encompassed by this point, there is still another aspect to consider. Just like the end of television episodes, ending a chapter can provide a great place for the reader to “get back to life” if they need to.
I know when I read I try to find ideal stopping points in the story where I can put the book down for a time and continue on with responsibilities I would rather ignore. Chapters are my way of doing that, and as an author I want my chapters to be a nod of recognition that others will have to put the story down at some point as well.
It’s much easier to return to a story and keep track of the events up to that point at a clean break than it is to read mid-paragraph that you were unable to finish.
Why do you separate your stories into chapters? Is there anything that you would like to see covered on this blog?
Let me know in the comments below, and see you all next week!