1. Scot McPhie
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    Scot McPhie Member

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    A novel without chapters

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Scot McPhie, Jun 10, 2013.

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    Last edited: Aug 31, 2014
  2. Ian J.
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    Ian J. Active Member

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    No chapters in novels has been done before. Many of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels are written without chapters, though there are gaps for changes of scene. When I wrote my second novel I did it in scenes only. Once I thought it was more or less done, I went back through and looked for suitable places to put the more significant breaks in that became chapters. Not putting any chapters in did occur to me, but my impression is that most readers generally prefer to have some kind of significant place to take a break as they read through a book.
     
  3. Scot McPhie
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    Scot McPhie Member

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  4. Juju Bagdasarian
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    Juju Bagdasarian Member

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    I personally, a break isnt something i am looking for in a chapter, i usaully stop whereever i am when i feel tired but i like chapters because it's something that i can measure my progress .
     
  5. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Personally, I'd tend to agree with Ian J above, but what the heck. If you have a valid story reason for not using chapter breaks (as opposed to just doing something 'different' for its own sake), I'd say damn the torpedos, do what you want! Bookmarkers do exist, as you pointed out! (You could include a 'free' one with each copy of your book. Now there's a sales technique for you. ;))

    I know my own problem (if it's a problem) is that while my book has chapters, they are of greatly varying lengths. Each is a scene or series of scenes that create a mini-story within my larger one, and they are not always the same length. I guess some (proverbial) publishers don't like this sort of thing, but then again, so many of them theoretically don't like a lot of what I do—historical, unfashionable, too long, has a Prologue, uses italics for thoughts—that I'm probably never going to please them anyway. I may as well write what and how I want, and worry about publishing hee-haw later on. There's always the self-publishing route, and at least I'd be publishing my story, written my way.
     
  6. Juju Bagdasarian
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    Juju Bagdasarian Member

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    Rofl i never though of that, nice :D
     
  7. Phecda
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    Phecda New Member

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    I've fumbled with the idea before, one of my current projects might go for a no chapters break up method, since it flows out much better this way. Only breaks being scene breaks, and such. I get lost while reading during a chapter and I don't even realize how far I've gotten until I see the chapter title on the page after the chapter ending page. I don't usually stop reading for the time being when the chapter ends, so I wouldn't mind reading a book with no chapters (though I might wonder "when will I see the next chapter?" due to the normal use).

    Major block, however, is getting it passed by a traditional publisher which would be very tricky.
     
  8. Scot McPhie
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    Scot McPhie Member

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  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if you're not using line breaks for changes of scene/character pov/time/etc., it's going to be a difficult/annoying read...

    with no chapters, i doubt you'll find a paying publisher for it, unless it's brilliantly written, or you're famous for something...
     
  10. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I don't follow you. Why do you think you would need an artificial device to do this? I would think the story itself would be all the glue you would need. I'm not arguing, I'm just not seeing the benefit.

    Actually, chapters generally signal natural breakages - changes in time, in location, in POV. They also provide points at which the reader can put the book down. After all, how many full-length novels are read in one sitting?
     
  11. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    if your narrative is a compact form which needs to be a big, one-piece chunk of text : don't divide it arbitrarily in chapters - in some forms of writing, where the story is told scene-by-scene-by-scene, not having chapters will probably be difficult for your average reader. If your story is less conservative and the structure is what some might call "xperimental" or "artsy(-fartsy)" then keep in mind your agent and publisher will have to be people open to something differrent...
     
  12. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    I do. The only book where I stop before the end of a chapter is with a historical epic that I've been reading on my phone over the past year (and I'm still only a quarter of the way through!). I open it just for a few pages here and there while travelling or in waiting rooms.
     
  13. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Agree with Ed - chapters are not artificial breaks; they are natural breaks in the narrative, signaling either a scene change, or a 'mini-resolution', or the start of a new problem for the characters... definitely not artificial, which implies stuck in at some arbitrary point. With or without chapters, the story should flow into 'one fluent piece', otherwise there's a problem with the writing itself.
     
  14. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I read a book like this - very prosey, experimental - Letters from Hanusse by Joshua Haigh.
    I could see this idea working with something like that, epecially if you find a publisher who helps the
    experimental part along by releasing it in a small managable cube with a couple of paragraphs on
    each page. But I don't think this would work with an ordinary straight-forward story or genre, you'd
    only be confusing the reader.
    You don't have to write cliffhangers for a chapter just find where the most natural 'stop-for-a-breath' moment is.
     
  15. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I recall a novel in the 1960s by Taylor Caldwell, Dialogues With the Devil, which began with a letter from Satan to God, followed by a response from Michael the Archangel, and then a correspondence between the two. That, too, had no chapters, but the letters themselves formed natural break points. It wasn't just one continuous, unbroken flow of words.
     
  16. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    My first impression of this statement? WRONG! Wrong, wrong, wrong.

    The chapter breaks are to mark specific breaks in scene, action, time, place, and, in some cases, character POV. There is a quite specific purpose for those ubiquitous chapter breaks. Not really artificial at all. If your writing is good, the reader will skim over that notation of "Chapter ##" and just keep on reading until they are ready to put a book down. If your writing sucks, working to maintain that "fluent whole" won't matter. The reader will merely put it down and not pick it up again. So what is the good/bad of breaking writing up into chapters? It can actually help the reader "brush up" on what s/he has read before delving into the next section of the book, especially if the author has given the chapters informative titles.

    So, my end analysis impression of that above-noted comment? WRONG! Just plain wrong.

    Now, don't misunderstand. There have been books written in one seemingly stream of conscious form. But it would take one helluva writer to pull it off, frankly.
    Let's watch tv without a bathroom break. Let's take six college courses in a day and all of them in the same room, same instructor.

    Some things just work better with a little break now and then. Are you the exception who can write a blockbuster novel with nary a scene or chapter break? Maybe. though with the errors in your post, I'm not putting any money on your horse!
     
  17. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Actually, the letters in the title is deceptive because they aren't any letters. ( Gofigure lol. ) Well, I think he dreams of sending a letter or waits for a letter to arrive. But there's no actually letters. It's a totally odd book, featuring paragraphs of the mc going over a failed relationship, recalling the good points, glossing over the bad, pretending two children he kidnapped actually like him. There's not a lot of action except in memories.
     
  18. ChaosReigns
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    ChaosReigns Be Still and Know Contributor

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    This is a personal preference thing, Twinsanity (my main horror) comprises of no chapters as such, but more breakages in the form of flashbacks. i (for no apparent reason unto myself, other than it felt right for the story) wrote it like this, but it could so easily have been different if it wasn't for my writing style
     
  19. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    I like that The Road has no chapters. I've never been a big fan of chapters or segmenting stories, unless the chapters are incredibly short like in Bukowski's novels-- some as short as a paragraph. There really shouldn't be any rules on chapters and it annoys me that agents and publishers ask for 'the first 3 chapters' when you're trying to present something that doesn't have the 'standard' chapter lengths.
     
  20. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I'm pretty sure Scott Smith's first book, A Simple Plan, was written without chapters. So was his second, The Ruins. Both are good. It can certainly be done.
     
  21. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Do you mean that in your novel there are no breaks between the chunks? Only indentations, but basically the whole novel is one big "chapter?" Or that you do have sections (are they called sections?). Then a break. Then a next section, but you haven't organized these sections under chapters 1,2,3...? that could be arranged into "a table of contents" that some fictional novels have.

    I think this'd work best with a novella. I for one like neat structures, so I like chapter -> section -> paragraph constructions with longer pieces.

    Apparently At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien has the first page titled Chapter 1, but has no further chapter divisions.

    If I were you, I'd do what feels the best for the story. If it flows better without chapter divisions, then you don't divide it. I'm sure that if it's good enough as a story and the writing's good enough, publishers and readers will find it and like it.
     
  22. Scot McPhie
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    Scot McPhie Member

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  23. mg357
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    My first and second novels have been written without chapters and it was an enjoyable process and I was able to make the novel readable in that manner.
     
  24. EdFromNY
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    Were you able to publish them?
     
  25. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Is that relevant?
     

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