Chapter 1: Necessity
On writing chapters, one must account for breaks in a story’s progression.
Chapter 2: Practicality
Chapters ought to flow in tune with the ebb and flow of the narrative.
Chapter 3: Introduction, as Usual
That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.
Chapter 4: Question
Does my book need chapters?
—Bob Brown, Cleveland, Ohio.
Chapter 5: Reply
Good to hear from you, Mr. Brown of Cleveland. I wish your team the very best next year. I can only hope “the very best” isn’t 2 wins of 16.
As for your question: Uh, maybe? Some do, some don’t. Depends on what you’re writing, who you’re writing to, what sub-genre (sludge-crimefighter-noir) you’re peddling. Take the Bible — in English, chapters. In Greek, no chapters, no chaser.
Chapter 6: Chapter Chatter
(Ok, stop that)
Every element of writing should be purpose driven, including the chapters. You include them with a purpose, or you omit them for a purpose. There’s no in-between, no cream filling for this Oreo. I’ll list the pros and cons.
Pro-Chapters: “A Chapter Away Keeps the Doctor Away. (Because doctors hate fiction, or something)”
1. Marks logical breaks in action, shift in focus, switching of scene. A no brainer. You didn’t write the story in one sitting, and it’s likely not good enough to be read in one sitting. Break it down.
2. Handy for narratives from multiple viewpoints. See: House, Bleak. If you want less of a challenge for your reader, switch views as you switch chapters.
3. Covers gaps of time in a single bound. Know how much time you can reasonably fit in between chapters? Up to 1,086 years tops. Not too shabby.
5. Masks the lack of consistency with vignettes, asides, spare parts cobbled to make a tale. Case in point: if you took the chapters out of Moby Dick, you’d be left with a great, weird, hypermodern book instead of a great weird book.
6. Deliberate obfuscation. Considering the previous note, adding more chapters than are necessary makes for an intentionally disorienting ride. And sometimes you want that reader to vomit from disorientation than to perish in the bile of boredom and its constituents.
Anti-Chapters: “No Shirt. No Shoes. No Chapters. No Problem. (Except you’re a homeless writer)”
1. Speed. Ever take a road trip without stopping for anything? Stops are for slops. Get there faster. Chapters do stutter the experience. If you want the whoosh in your writing, drive that straight shot. No potty breaking.
2. Temporal distortion. Life punctuates with day, night, sunset, sunrise, apocalypse, recrudescence. Cutting out the backbone of chapters gives you freedom to move in and out between time and space. There are no hands on this clock, but time moves. Somewhere.
3. Temporal limitation. If you’re telling a long story in a short amount of time, then chapters aren’t going to be your thing. Move along. They’re not the droids you’re looking for.
4. Shorter stories — they don’t need chapters. If this is a NaNoWriMo work, then chapters are surplus to requirements. They didn’t add to the word count, you know.
5. Challenge where there is no challenge. If you write in plain style, not a frill on the wardrobe, then your tale doesn’t need chapters. It’ll thud along happily without them.
6. Deliberate obfuscation. (Yes, this again.) Where there are no breaks where there should be chapter breaks, there lies confusion. And in some cases, that’s just the ticket.
What guidelines or rules do you have for writing chapters?
Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com), followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and chaptered to the point of chapping.