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What is a Chapter? A Guide on Chapter Breakdown First, let me preface this by saying that I realize that not everyone thinks of a chapter in the same way that I am about to present it. It's totally fine if, when you're reading, you feel as if you still prefer to continuing your chaptering method as you please. I find that in the writing community, there are so many methods of doing different things (from worldbuilding to character development to outlining to chaptering) and it really comes down to what is going to work best for you, as the writer (I sound like a broken record, if you've ever stumbled across any of my writing guides, haha)! Also, I just want to say that I was inspired to write this guide because of +this post ["Help... I have a problem with word count"] as it revolved around different opinions on how long a chapter should be. I realize that I touched on breaking your story arch down into chapters in +Planning Your Novel, but I never really got into HOW I go about doing that. So, here we are, with me and my little 'e' expert pants on [because I am in no way, shape, or form a bit 'e' Expert on anything other than procrastination (see me writing a guide during NaNo)]. And by little 'e' expert pants, I mean pyjama bottoms, because I have yet to get dressed today. First and foremost! What is a Chapter? What constitutes a chapter? Is it a word count? Is it a completed action? A plot point? What is it that makes a chapter a chapter? I mean, Google says that a chapter is "a main division of a book, typically with a number or title" which is clearly oh-so-helpful (thanks, Google, you're the best). In theory, you could say that a chapter is made up of several scenes (or ONE event or action) that work together to create a point, or to set up a particular moment. However, sometimes chapters are just ONE scene. That doesn't mean that the scene is a short scene and therefore results in a short chapter -- sometimes, a "scene" can be a few thousand words long because something critical is happening. And, sometimes it is a short chapter, made up of one short scene. Also, sometimes a chapter is quite long (like 10,000 words long), because the author decided that everything in that chapter was crucial to be in that chapter . So, again, that's not entirely helpful. I think we can draw from it is that something "important" or "relevant" to your plot or characters happens in a chapter. But what about filler chapters? Well, when we think of story fillers, we are thinking of "unnecessary" text to keep the story moving, meaning that if you removed that portion of the text, the reader could still understand the story and the story would be unaffected. I mean, in my personal opinion, I would never dedicate an entire chapter to filler. That does not make filler chapters wrong in any way, shape, or form, of course -- it's just my opinion. I also am not a fan of unnecessary imagery, large piles of information and backstory, and garrulous paragraphs that could be broken up into smaller paragraphs. That's just how I like to write and read -- I like things to be trim. And that's not to say that I have never enjoyed a filler chapter or that any of these things are necessarily bad, it's just my opinion. For instance, I also don't like steak but that doesn't make steak bad (do you see what I'm trying to say here?). Taking my opinion out of it, I suppose it would then be that transitional text between the two points of the chapters before and after it, so that it makes the connection or transition. Then we take word count into consideration. Some people are put off by "short" chapters, while others are put off by "long" chapters, and you can see my full opinion on chapters length in the first link I posted, but I'll summarize here. When taking into account that a chapter is meant to be comprised of "several scenes" that will ultimately work together to create a centralized point or event or moment. Using that theory, a chapter can be any actual word count you want it to be, which is frightening to think about. Now, I know people aren't going around writing 50K word chapters on the daily because that's a lot to ask of a chapter (and of a reader). That would also mean that one-scene chapters (no matter what the length), would not be the way to go. And I very much disagree with that point. But do we ignore this guideline and focus solely on word count, though? If so, what is the appropriate word count for a chapter? Well, I didn't know, so I typed it into Google and it's pretty much an opinion game. Most sites give ranges of 2,000 to 5,000 words per chapter, 3,000 to 5,000 words, or 4,000 to 5,000 words, and one even took a large number of bestselling books and came up with an average of, 4,280 words. What I found most interesting about ALL these numbers from all these sites was that none of the ranges dipped below 2,000 words, and none of the sites ranged above 5,000 words (calling their ranges or averages the "sweet spot"). But why? What is so off-putting about shorter and longer chapters? So when we look at some famous authors who are notorious for breaking the mold, so-to-speak. James Patterson is well-known for his thrillers, which consist almost exclusively of short chapters. As for authors of chapters that are longer than 5,000 words, just pick up a J.R.R. Tolkein book . Taking all numbers and ranges from these websites into account, we might say that 3,500 is a typical average chapter. (Er...or at least pretend that's what it is for the sake of the following argument, thanks!) So, then, do we just write until we hit 3,500 words? Not in my opinion. There has to be SOMETHING other than word count that makes a chapter. Which brings us right back to the first point, that I also did not agree with. What then? It is my opinion that there has to be a balance between the two. There has to be a POINT to your chapter (whether to move the plot forward, create conflict, resolve conflict, do some character development, whatever), but I also don't believe in 50,000-word chapters (and I'll tell you why in a second). In fact, I'm more apt to believe in a 1k chapter than a 11k chapter and its ability to carry a plot point. It's not that I mind reading an 11k chapter, but there was a time when I did, especially as a younger reader. I've already told you that, while reading, I don't like a lot of unnecessary information and fluff and fat. When faced with an extremely long chapter, I often feel as if the chapter can be broken up and trimmed down, and there always feels as if there is a ton of extra information or detail in the text to buff up word count for no other reason than to buff up word count. And that's not to say that that theory is true and, if it is, that it's wrong in any way. Some readers like to read long, detailed chapters (but that's not me). I find as if the point of the chapter gets lost in it all. Or I find that there are more than one "points" or events occurring in the chapter. Again, not wrong, just not my style. (Which is surprising, because I'm a rambler as you can probably tell.) There is most generally a natural transitioning point in very long chapters (even without trimming out the fat) where a chapter can be broken into two chapters. I totally get where an author would not like to do that, and where they would like to keep their chapter together -- it's just a personal preference. And there are some people who are put off by shorter chapters. I can understand where some people would think it's difficult to fulfil plot points in a very short chapter. And, sometimes, short chapters can be missing the meat that makes a story interesting (character development, some level of description, interaction, follow-through -- things that bring a reader into a story). There are many reasons to write short chapters. James Patterson is notorious for his short chapters [sometimes between two and three pages, though I can't give you the exact word count], though I've yet to find an issue with his worldbuilding or plot. If done right, there can an even be an advantage to plot-building in short chapters. Especially in the case of using short chapters in excess, there is a significant advantage to pacing that can be established. Taking it back to Patterson, who writes thrillers, short chapters with a faster pace can help build a sense of excitement and suspense that add to that thriller element. Longer chapters, of course, can work with the opposite effect. They can slow down the pace, which can allow the reader to soak in a particular situation, theme, or event further, and allows the author ample time to establish elements. So, I do think that chapter creation has to do with a balance between word count and PURPOSE, and that word count can vary for effect. It also comes down to personal preference. If you don't like writing chapters longer than 2k, or if you don't like writing chapters under 7k, then honey, do your thing. However, for the purpose of the chapter breakdown, I'm going to be taking MY personal writing preference. That is an average of 3,000 words with a purpose. I have this THING with chapters, where I find a chapter to be a good point of transition -- a resting point -- where readers can take a break and absorb what they've just read (or absorb what I've just read when reading someone else's work). How to Break a Story Down Into Chapters -- Rumpel-style. Okay, so there are multiple ways to break your story down. Some people write their entire story down first and then chapter later. I cannot even grasp the concept of writing scene-to-scene for an entire story without breaking it down and taking a BREAK, so I won't be showing that method. In the second link in the introduction, you can see how I plan novels/multi-chaptered works. In that guide I plan chapter outlines LAST. So, in essence, you can say I break down my chapters during the planning stages. I first plan my entire story (not write it, though), and then break the plot points down into chapters. Now, the method I can show you is based off of having my story already plotted out. I can't show you how to break your chapters down if you're writing as you go without some sort of plotting or outlining done, because I don't know how to do that. This method also relies on how well you know yourself as a writer. Step One: Look at the plot points Okay so you've got your general plot points (that you've broken down into even more points if you use a method similar to mine), so you have the general outline of your story. LOOK at those points and try to break them into pieces. In example, points ABCD should go together, points EFG should go together, etc. Of course, this is taking into account you're running a linear plot. If you're running a nonlinear plotline, you should first arrange your points in the order that they occur in the story before grouping them. Step Two: Know your writing This one is a little more difficult and is going to come with some practice. I can generally look at a plot point and know about how many words its going to take to make the point happen. It's going to take a little trial-and-error and adjusting if you're plotting chapter outlines, but it doesn't take long before you're able to feel it out. Step Three: Point pairings and word count Now, you're going to take the first two steps and combine it with about how many words you want in your chapter. For me, that's approximately 3,000 words. Now, I know that I can put 3 or 4 minor points together to reach around 3,000 words, but that may not be the case for everyone. Sometimes, for example, only two out of four plot points that I want to pair together fit into 3,000-4,000 words. Step Four: Break it down If points A&B = 3,000 words and points C&D = 1,500 words, I will make a 4,500-word chapter. However, if points A&B = 3,000 words and points C&D = 3,000 words, I will try to find a natural transitioning point between points B and C to break them into two chapters because it doubles my approximate chapter word count goal. And that's my general rule of chapter breakdown. Now if I find that point C HAS to be with points A&B, but D can stand on its own or with the next set of points, then I'll make exceptions to word counts. \O/ And that's pretty much it! The most difficult parts are, of course, knowing how many words I want per chapter, and being able to recognize about how many points I want per chapter. Feel free to share YOUR chapter breakdown methods below and/or your opinions on word count or what makes up a chapter .
How to Plan and Outline Your Novel Planning isn’t for everyone -- it wasn’t ‘for me’ either until I found an outlining system that worked for me. Since I started planning and outlining more thoroughly, I’ve found that I no longer suffer from writer’s block (not yet, anyway *crosses fingers*). Now, if I’m not writing when I could be writing (like right now), it’s because I’m being a procrastinator. Let me begin by saying that planning is not for everyone -- I know some people who have the ability to sit down and type, planning as they go and keeping track of everything in their headspace. Especially with a novel, this doesn’t work for me (my headspace is filled up with thoughts of when I’m going to have pizza next). Other people work with varying degrees of planning from basic plot and character ideas to full on detailed outlines and supplemental material. I fall in the latter category. Also, the method I’ll be using below might not work for everyone because everyone is different and will have their own style of doing things. I’ve even seen one writer start with (lengthy) individual character plots, print them out, cut them up, and put them into sequential order. I would never be able to keep track of all those bits of paper, but that’s what works for her. Here’s an example of how to plan your novel using a made-up story synopsis that will probably be lacking. Where to Start? Again, I’m just going to show you where I like to begin planning, and things may be a little different for you. Maybe you like to come up with your characters before writing your plot, or maybe you like writing the end of your novel first and work backward to the introduction. Whatever works. Step One: The Basic Plot Points The first thing I do is jot down the basic plot points, without any detail whatsoever. This helps me get the general idea of how long my story is going to be. (Generally speaking, the more plot points, the longer the story and the few plot points, the shorter the story. Once again, this isn’t always true in all cases.) Example: Boy meets Girl Boy falls in love with Girl Girl doesn’t notice Boy Boy gains superpowers from eating radioactive broccoli Girl is abducted by Evil Mutated Vegetable Warlord Boy fights Evil Mutated Vegetable Warlord and all of his Evil Mutated Vegetable Minions (probably with help) Boy saves the world | Boy saves Girl Girl falls in love with Boy Boy and Girl live happily ever after. Step Two: The Details Now that you know where your story is headed, it’s time to fill in some of the details. You can do this by separating your story into three parts (part one, part two, and part three). For now, you won’t be getting overly specific, but it should clarify some of the greater plot points. Part One: The Introduction This is where you’ll be introducing your characters, namely your protagonist. This is also where you’ll be creating the setting of the story (which can be changeable, of course) and where you’ll begin to introduce problems that your main character will be facing. Remember that nobody else will be seeing this except for you (unless you show them), Example: Boy lives in Nowheresville, New York in 2017. He’s 16 and is attending Nowheresville High. He has two friends, Comic-Relief-Bob and Steve, and is the head of the AV club. He idolizes Girl, the Mary Sue cheerleader who is beautiful and excels in everything (except for not getting caught by monsters and being a damsel in distress). Boy tries everything to impress Girl: reciting Shakespeare outside her bedroom window at night, buying her lots of expensive things like bouquets of flowers and concert tickets, even decorating her locker daily with paper-mache hearts and love notes. Nothing works. One dreary October day, Boy was eating in the cafeteria with Bob and Steve. Bob says some funny things to establish that he is the funny one. Steve agrees with everything Boy says. Boy knows that the broccoli looks funny that day (is broccoli supposed to glow?) but decides to eat it anyway. Later that night, Boy discovers that the severe indigestion was actually the imbuement of superhuman abilities like super-strength and super-speed and also he can fly! Neat. (Also, it made him at least three times more attractive, because it did.) The next day, while showing his friend his newfound abilities, an army of Evil Mutated Vegetable minions breaks into the school and the leader kidnaps Girl (because she’s the best, duh). Part Two: The Middle Bits This is where your MC will decide to solve whatever problem was presented to them at the beginning of the story. This is the largest part of your story, and a lot of important information happens here, so plan accordingly. In this section, your characters will be more fully revealed, they’ll have trying moments that teach them valuable lessons (probably), and you’ll develop an interesting story along the way. This section should also be building the story to its climax while keeping enough conflict to keep this part of the story interesting. Example: Boy has a huge decision to make. Will he leave the safety of his ordinary life behind to save the girl of his dreams? Yes. Yes, he will. He places his parents in a sleep-stasis, before heading out with Bob (who makes some funny remarks) and Steve. By the context clues left at the scene, namely an address, the boys know they will be traveling to Austria. Together they travel the Oceans by giant turtle (because speaking to animals is yet another one of Boy’s abilities), and they traverse the Alps (all 1,200kms of mountain) they finally end up in up in Vienna, Austria. They find that the inhabitants of Vienna are under the mind control of the Evil Mutated Vegetable Minions, who try to capture you all on sight. During an intense battle, Bob is captured. Now Boy is really determined to find the Evil Mutated Vegetable Warlord’s hideout and save both his to-be girlfriend and his friendly comic relief. Upon finding the lair, both Boy and Steve fall into a trap!. They are imprisoned in the Warlord’s lair. Part Three: The Ending This is what your entire story has been leading up to -- the climax. Your climax should be exciting! It’s the big reveal, or the final battle, or the most important piece of the plotline. This is also where you’ll be tying up loose ends and letting the reader know how the story ends. Example: As it turns out, the bars on the imprisonment are made from anti-superhuman-ability materials, and Boy can’t break his way out. Luckily for Boy, Steve can pick a lock as well as the next guy (if the next guy were a locksmith). Once freed, Boy and Steve try to defeat the Warlord and his Minions An epic battle occurred, in which there were many times that the both sides gained the advantage and even a moment where it looked like the bad guys would inevitably win. In a most epic and trying moment, Bob is finally able to defeat the evil army with the power of fruits! As it turned out, Evil Mutated Vegetables’ greatest weakness was perfectly ripened fruits. And luckily for the protagonists, a fruit vendor wheeled his cart into the lair. Boy and Steve defeat the Warlord and his Minions before setting Girl and Bob free. Bob says funny things. Girl falls in love with Boy, and they live happily ever after and Boy continuously saves Girl from various antagonists until the end of their days. The End Step Three: Storyboard Time Next, I like to make a storyboard, where I can pile all those plot points in chronological order and fill in the blanks. This also allows me to add any and all other ideas I have for the story (subplot points, random quotes, and other ideas) into the story on some sort of timeline. Perhaps you’ll want to throw in some sort of plot twist or have finally figured out one of Bob’s extremely funny jokes. There are a ton of different ways you could storyboard. You can use the old thumb tack to wall (or cork board) trick. Take index cards with all of your plot points and ideas and stick them to something (sticky notes work, too, but be careful that the adhesive doesn’t wear out before you’ve finished). This way you can freely rearrange the storyline at will. There are also programs that allow you to move ideas around freely like Microsoft OneNote, Google Keep, and Zim. I personally enjoy storyboarding on Google Keep because it’s simple, allows me to move those notes around, pin the ones I want to keep in place and save images and links from the web when I get into the ever-important research phase. Whatever you choose, if you’re planning on using a physical approach (like a cork board), I suggest taking a picture or copying it onto into a program or document for backup purposes. Part Four: The Nitty Gritty Now that you know where your story’s going, there are several main concepts that you're going to have to figure out. Characterization: This is where you’ll delve into the who and the what of your characters. There are highly complex methods and more simplistic methods on mapping out your characters. I made a list of characterization ideas +here, but it’s pretty extensive and grueling. @Shadokat678 left a video link in the comments with a much more concise character mapping guide, and @MuggleMaybe left a list of HP-verse character-related questions as well! World-building: If you’re writing an alternate earth or in a different dimension, it’s a good idea to establish the workings of your world. Even if you’re not, it’s still a good idea to know what’s going on in the world that may affect the characters in the plot. For example, you may want to establish types of government or the current economy (especially in the location(s) that the story is taking place). @TidalDragon wrote a magnificent guide to world building +here Establishing a System for Everything ‘Superhuman’: ( Or anything else that the reader isn’t familiar with.) If you’re using Superhuman abilities, make sure to include why, and how they work, and what their limitations are. The same goes for magic. Fun things to include are if and how those things evolve over time and what the cost is for using or learning them. For more specific information on writing magical abilities, check out Sanderson’s Laws of Magic +here, which I’ve found insightful. Also, things like unfamiliar races and creatures (Orcs, Halflings, Bugbears, Gods, etc.) should be explained somewhat for your reader. Therefore, it’s a good idea to establish those things for yourself first. What can they do? What do they look like? Where do they live? Etc. Are there unfamiliar plants in your story? What about substances? Anything that the reader would feel unfamiliar with, or something you’ve created from nothing, should be fully understood by you, the writer, so that it may be understood by the reader. Step Five: The Research There are probably going to be some aspects of your story you’d like to research more. In the case of the example I used during the plotting phase, I might want to research the Alps or Austria. Maybe I’d like to research sea turtles and their migration. Extensive understanding of what your writing will translate to your reader, making your story feel more realistic and believable. Make sure you have a solid understanding of what you’ll be writing about. This is also where I find that using the storyboard-able programs are helpful for storing and organizing information. This is where some of you may think is a good time to stop and start writing. Or maybe you would stop long before now and get to the writing. I tend to take things a bit further and expand my characterizations and plot points further, just so I know where I’m going. Then, I get even crazier. Sep Six: Chapter Outlines This is where I break apart my story into chapters and extensively outline each chapter accordingly. I didn’t do this initially, but now that I’ve started, I can’t stop. This ensures that I always know what’s happening in my story and is probably the greatest contributing factor in eliminating writer’s block (for me). Conclusion: That’s a ton of work to do, but it’s how I like to plan for my story. This is not going to work for everyone, and you should definitely plan whatever ways work best for you. Feel free to share different ways that YOU like to plan, if at all.