Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Chapters Vs Scenes

First off, Lacey was interviewed! Read her interview at Simon Hay's blog!

So I was reading this awesome post at QueryTracker about writing a synopsis and the section on chapters got me thinking.

I don't write in chapters. My brain doesn't understand them. Like, literally - I find it confusing how sometimes a chapter can take place over a period of three days, and another time a chapter ends in the middle of a scene and the next chapter picks up at the exact same place. I can't find the pattern.

I think in scenes and scene sequences - thanks to all my film and screenwriting education, I guess. My first ms is a dual narrative and for the most part each "chapter" is one complete scene or sequence.

H.L. Dyer says at QueryTracker, "Each chapter, like a novel, should have a beginning, middle, and an ending."

This makes sense to me, and I think this is true of my scenes and scene sequences, they are just generally too short to be considered a "typical" chapter. I'm also a fan of the short chapter in fiction, so maybe that says something about me and my writing.

As I'm in the planning stages of my next book, I'm finding the chapter issue interesting. This book will have one narrator and so switching chapters at the end of each scene doesn't quite work with how I want this book to be.

I don't outline, but I do make note of all the major scenes I know need to happen, as well as my beginning through to the inciting incident, and my ending. I'm fascinated by people who use chapter outlines, and know exactly what will be in each chapter when they sit down to write.

I don't know how they do this. But then I also tend to be more fluid with my scenes. I will switch them around and re-order them in order to best build tension, make motivations clear, and keep the story moving forward.

At this point, I feel certain that I will have to write first and separate into chapters later. I will probably but in chapter breaks in places where it feels right, but other than that I won't know where a chapter ends and the next one starts until I finish the story.

What about you? Do you know exactly what your chapters will entail? Do you think in chapters or scenes? Does anyone else split and number chapters after they've written the book? Am I crazy?


  1. I'm a pantser too. And I also like shorter chapters. I end each where it feels right and interestingly enough I rarely have to change them later, though it has happened. Watch, now that I said that I'll have to redo all of them in my WIP...

  2. I'm like Lisa. I end chapters where it feels right and I've rarely felt the need to change them later, unless I've rewritten those chapters completely. Now I'm questioning whether or not each chapter has a beginning, middle, and end.

  3. I do my best to plan this all out ahead of time, but it never really works as planned (okay, I have only one novel, can't really say never).

    My chapters tend to be super long, like over 20 pages. They often contain three or more scenes. I think this is too long, my CPs do too.

    Luckily I can often break them into shorter chapters by scene.

  4. You're not crazy at all. You have to do what works for you. I write in chapters because I feel that each has to have their own rise and fall, or arc if you will. A lot of it is by feel though.

  5. I think the same way. My chapters are scenes with a beginning, middle and end.

  6. I write my chapters to contain scenes, but if a scene is a little too long for one chapter, or even too short, then I find the best thing to do is to ask yourself, "where can I chapter-break that will keep the reader wanting to continue reading into the next chapter?". As writers, we all want "page-turning, couldn't-put-it-down" stories. Some of the best books I've ever read do this; they break in a spot that is the most suspenseful, or leaves a question that must be answered before the reader is satisfied to put the book down.

  7. You're not crazy (well, I don't THINK you are anyway ;p). I can understand writing without thinking in chapters. But I don't write that way. My mind thinks in scenes when I write, so I usually write a chapter as if it's a scene in a movie - where does it open and where does the scene end. But, you know, that's just me. Every writer should use methods that work best for them, I think.

  8. Well, you might be crazy but that's a different issue. ;)

    Like you, I favor shorter chapters but maybe that's because I write YA. I never know my chapter endings ahead of time, but I seem to know how they should end as I'm typing. I've ended up surprising myself a few times w/ twists that I hadn't planned by writing from the hip, so I'll stick with it for now.


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