Chapters or No Chapters...... Why?

Discussion in 'Novels' started by J.T. Woody, Apr 6, 2018.

  1. J.T. Woody

    J.T. Woody Amateur Human Contributor

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    Adding to this, I recently started reading These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer (I'm dabbling a little in Romance). Heyer wrote a lot in the 1920-40s I believe. Her titles are too telling for me. Im on "Chapter Ten" (out of 32) and I already know how its going to end. The chapters don't make me excited to read anymore because the chapter title already tells you how the chapter is going to end. Whats the point of reading it?
    The Urban Fantasy and Historical Fantasy series I've read don't have chapter titles, but I remember as a Teen, YA novels had them. I haven't noticed them as an adult... but then again, I don't read as often as I used to :(
    I literally have a box of books that I haven't unpacked yet that I still haven't gotten around to reading.
     
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  2. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I had no chapters in the novella my WIP is based on, just scene breaks. But I was writing in third person with a semi-omniscient narrator, so it didn't matter that the story kept going and going.

    The novel, on the other hand has fired the narrator (@ChickenFreak's fault, really, lol) and tells the story through the close POV of my two protagonists. Not to mention that it's a heck of a lot longer. For that I need definite breaks; i.e., chapters.

    I see them as thematic units. Each of them are about some overarching idea, and have their own beginning, middle, and end. I tend to keep them short, around 2,000 words or so, and end them with, well, not quite a cliff hanger, but something that'll tease the reader into going on to the next one. I guess you could say I offer my chapters as the literary equivalent of cookies or chips/crisps. "They're small, why not have another?" (And another. And another.)

    I think if I had a long book with no chapter breaks, I'd find it easier to put it down late at night. I mean, I'm never going to finish it in one sitting, right? So I may as well just stop where I am and pick it up again tomorrow. But if I think I have time to finish the chapter . . .
     
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  3. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin I have misplaced my pants.... Contributor

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    Damn it, flipping through Blood Meridian to look at the chapter titles got me reading the book again. How many dead babies can one author cram into a book? You can just rock me to sleep tonight, Cormac....
     
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  4. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Benevolent Ochlocrat Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Man, I got about a third of the way through that book and just gave up. I've read Gravity's Rainbow twice, loved The Road, worked my way through Mason and Dixon and Cosmic Banditos. I fucking love Moby Dick, I've read it more than a dozen times, but Blood Meridian? I just couldn't keep it in focus and didn't give a shit about anyone in the story.
     
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  5. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, I think there's a trick to naming chapters without giving the game away. Some authors are better at it than others. I don't know what readers from another era expected. The 'give away' synopsis titles were quite common at one time, so they must have been what people expected.

    I prefer the kind of names that give a clue what the chapter will be about (or even the setting) but doesn't give the outcome away. Maybe something that hints at the issues the chapter will raise, but doesn't let on how it will turn out. The difference between a chapter entitled "Homecoming" and the same chapter entitled "A Miserable Homecoming" are pretty stark. Both indicate what the chapter will be about, but the second one rather gives away the plot.

    I'm not a fan of the synopsis kind of extended chapter sub-heading, but that's personal. As are most of the reactions to this kind of thing. Some people like headings, some don't. Writers certainly still use them, as my list demonstrates.
     
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2018
  6. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Good points, especially the last. I'd also be more tempted to move to another chapter, just to see what happens. If I could stop anywhere because there are no natural breaks, I'd probably stop more frequently.
     
  7. grimshawl

    grimshawl Member

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    that's quite convoluted. I am not sure if the great majority of readers today would understand and appreciate such a setup. Still it is interesting when someone tries something different from time to time.
     
  8. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I can't imagine writing a novel without chapters. For me it's like a reprieve -- a cut in time, a break and a way to build to a cliffhanger or a turning point. I even love the added wedges of Part 1 and Part 2.
    Right now in my work-in-progress I'm at a whopping Chapter 51 -- I still have several more to go. I can't imagine not having numbered them. I only wish now I had named them at least in the first draft process so I can find certain scenes. Editing is going to be fun-wow. :rolleyes:

    Is there a reason why someone wouldn't have chapters?
    I would think that would make the read excruciating -- I picked up Umbrella by Will Self once and couldn't get into it because he had no separate paragraphs.
    Anything that messes with the expected format of a book actually puts me a little off.
     
  9. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Hm. I often name my chapters, but I don't think I'm guilty (as is mentioned further along in this thread) of the *SPOILER ALERT* chapter title. Since I'm not a linear writer, the title is often just a mention of the setting of the scene, which just helps me keep track of where I am as I write.

    *flips through his Scrivener files*

    I'm a liar! :ohno:

    The other Day @Iain Aschendale made use of the phrase nothing by halves, which is not a common phrase to hear in the U.S. and has a rather old-timie bicycle built for two sound to my yankee ears. Nonetheless, it spawned a chapter (thank you, Iain), and the title could be seen as a bit of a spoiler, but I like it too much to drop it and it's a minor transgression in the grand scheme.

    I'm keeping it. :whistle: :-D
     
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  10. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin I have misplaced my pants.... Contributor

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    I'd tend to agree and probably won't end up finishing it this time. It's one of those "important" literary works (top 5 or so all time according to the critics) where the characters' jounreys are essentially a non-factor compared to the diabolic agency of humanity that holds the book together. Not exactly a page-turner either, so it's good for learning creative metaphors and word usage. And if you're into desert or Western imagery you really can't beat it.

    (and it's the most violent thing ever devised, so there's that... I kind of giggle when modern authors try to shock me now)
     
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  11. xanadu

    xanadu Contributor Contributor

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    They're riding.
    There's some people up ahead.
    I bet they're gonna kill those people.
    Not that there's any real reason to.
    But I bet they do anyway.
    Oh look, they're killing them.
    Yup, they killed them.
    They're riding.

    ...But then again, that's the whole point, isn't it?
     
  12. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin I have misplaced my pants.... Contributor

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    Look, there's some babies ahead. Should we eat them, rape them, scalp them, or build a tree out of them? Why not all four?
     
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  13. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Benevolent Ochlocrat Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Didn't even get that far, just dusty guys with shitty minds. For a similar mood, I prefer The Place of Dead Roads, by William Burroughs.
     
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  14. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin I have misplaced my pants.... Contributor

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    You know, I never read him... adding to list now.
     
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  15. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Benevolent Ochlocrat Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Try to find audio files of his readings, that's the best way to get him.
     
  16. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Supporter Contributor

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    I've never read him either. I do this weird thing where I read my idols' idols, so he's been on my list for years, but somehow I never got there. (He's Nikki Sixx's fave author. Explains a lot.)
     
  17. BlitzGirl

    BlitzGirl Senior Member

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    I always prefer reading/writing stories with chapters. I feel the same way as you, where the end of a chapter denotes a good stopping point. I also feel that chapters can create good cliff-hangers if used properly. I've only read one novel that didn't have chapters, instead broken up into three parts and with large breaks in the text where normally there would be a chapter header. It still read and flowed like any other novel, of course.
     

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