Chapter Chatter: Creating Choice Chapters

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.

4. Suspense…

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 (, followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and chaptered to the point of chapping.


When to Say “No” to a Good Idea

Training an ice-cyclops to freeze over Florida’s highest peak into a popular ski resort. A blind poker player on the run from America’s casinos. A zombie writing an apologetic on zombiedom. Church pastors teaming up to overtake the local mob with an alternate crime underworld.

What do those ideas have in common? They’re all great ideas, but they would all make poor stories.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

I have a great idea about a house that becomes sentient after a homeowner “cracks the code” by stirring his coffee with a fork and not a spoon. Faced with the prospect of having a dweller exist more efficiently than the house, the house turns on him, trying to squelch his innovations and everything. So how would I make a good story out of this?

—Violet Naumann, San Diego, Calif.

Ah, a great idea. I agree with that much. Making a good story out of this? Hate to say it (OK, no, I don’t), but the best story you can make of it is no story at all. 

Some great ideas aren’t meant to be fleshed out. Ideas both good and bad make awful tales, short and long. Takes the rare material to stretch a good idea, solid concept into a narrative. Diamonds? Valuable, shimmering, pricey gem: unmalleable. Then there’s gold. Still worth your dollar, yet you can press it out for construction, just like the city of Denver did in erecting their Capitol building entirely out of an orange-sized ball of solid gold.

When to say “No” to a good idea:

1) When the idea shines brightest in its purest form. 

“Zombies bite into brains, seeking the Holy Grail of flavor.” (STOP THERE) You can go on and on about the strains of succulence in brain tissue, but that is ‘polishing the diamond,’ nothing more. It’s a fabulous thought: Tweet it instead.

2) When it delves into idiosyncratic interests.

I would read a story about the underworld dealings in Ty® Beanie Babies™ – picking up on the endless inside jokes about the “pellet density” in the Princess Di bears and the alchemy involved in creating dye to fabricate the rarest version of “Peanut, the Royal Blue Elephant.” And your readership would be me, and me alone. Don’t waste the effort.

3) When it works better as part of a grander idea.

Don DeLillo’s concept of a college professor serving as the chair of Hitler Studies is almost a story unto itself. The concept? Marvelous. But does DeLillo take this and run with it? Not quite. The genius is in its restraint, its tucking away into a larger fabric that works as a narrative. Even if that narrative (White Noise) puts the “stmo” in “postmodern.”

When have you benefitted from saying “No” to a good idea?

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (, followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and tossed into the wide-mouthed rubbish bin of fantastic ideas and fantastical narratives.

On Spam

As a purist, I’m one most unfortunate. Demanding excellence from all walks of written communication is a rough and unrewarding slog, but someone has to do it. No sending of “rl brf txts.” No truncated leetspeak. No instant message insanity. No shortcuts.

As such, I demand better from you spammers and spambots out there.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Writing All Wrong: This post was of th most excellent, but with even finer tuned of SEO tips and tricks of 2011. you could almost triple your pagviews daily! Reach out to your audiences of greaterr this year: for more see [REDACTED (for your benefit, trust me)]

— oomla-kamsing. biz

You can do better than this.

This is why spam is regarded as sub-tripe, sub-human. It’s like an art form that’s gone off to murder itself in the brain, coming back from the brink of death into retardation. You’ve gotten these messages too. Deep down, you don’t detest the generous offers from those princes in Nigeria suffering from banking crises, nor those “good-enough-to-be-true” prescription drug combo-pack giveaways — you detest the clumsiness, the improper grammar, the trappings of the offer.

Let’s shoot for better things here. Would I be interested in SEO meanderings and ferreting out shady links? Why, of course! But not if this deal is packaged in a crusted, mutilated, odor-stenched box.

WRONG: “My dear, Allow Me to Explain on behalf of my Princedom in regard to—”

Who opens up an impersonal letter with “My Dear?” Use “To Whom it May Concern” and go from there.

WRONG: “Bad Credit OK – Up to $1500 fertilisables humanizing roustabouts—”

Punctuation is your friend. The way I treat these humanizing roustabouts depends entirely on whether this is “Bad? Credit, ok.” or “Bad! Credit? Ok…” or Bad: Credit OK?”

WRONG: “Meet the best single on your city, view Chrsitian Dating online —”

I, for one, don’t fancy myself gunning for the best “single” massive enough to be atop my fair city. Would I not have noticed him/her by now, the folds of one’s enormous paunch draped over the skyline? Besides, we all know that the adherents of Chrsit have some iffy beliefs. Love is difficult enough as it is. Spammer, don’t make a mess of this.

Spammer, spambots, and spamwriters, do yourselves a favor. Before you all go to Hell, go back to English class.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (, followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and bettered for the optimized SEO traffic.