Chapters – A to Z: C

C is for Chapters. Chapters typically divide distinct sections of a book so that words, sentences and paragraphs that belong together form a logical piece of a book. We all know what chapters are, but have you ever given much thought to how many different ways there are to use (or not use) chapters?

The grouping of pieces of a book into chapters can happen for a number of reasons, such as different points of view, different spans of time, to give the reader a natural time to take a break (or intentionally the opposite, with a mini-cliffhanger at the end of a chapter), or simply because the author wants to emphasise a change of pace, or attitude. A chapter can be a single sentence, or dozens of pages long.

There can be “special” chapters: the prologue and the epilogue to start and end a book, respectively. Often, these can be separate from the main story, or tell a piece of the story that lies outside the “normal” narrator’s knowledge, to offer the reader special insight to what’s going on.

Some authors don’t use chapters, even in rather long books. Wilbur Smith’s African-themed adventure novels come to mind: they’re usually divided into sections (separated by a row of a few asterisks) that can be any length, but no chapters. Many authors number their chapters, but some don’t. A chapter can be called simply “Chapter 5”, or it can have a heading of its own. It can be numbered or not; chapter titles can be unique or repeated. George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, for instance, uses the name of the POV (point of view) character as the chapter heading but leaves them unnumbered. Some books, especially in sci-fi, can use dates or timestamps instead of chapter names.

Some authors use simple chapter titles, some use very descriptive or poetic ones. In some cases, chapter names or numbers can even be used to give the reader meta-information of some sort. The number of chapters can be significant or completely coincidental. Wikipedia’s article on book chapters has some interesting examples of unusual numbering schemes. Robin Hobb’s Farseer and The Tawny Man trilogies use short “meta-story” excerpts describing the first-person narrator’s experiences as he is writing the main story. Her Rain Wilds Chronicles use short letters sent by bird between the world’s birdkeepers; taken together, these tell a “meta-story” of their own. Patrick Rothfuss prefixes some chapter titles with “Interlude” to emphasise that these lie outside the main story, in the “story around the story”. Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story has 26 chapters, beginning with the letters A to Z, with fancy-looking drop caps specifically designed for the book by an illustrator – how fitting is that for the A to Z Challenge?!? 😉

The Neverending Story, Chapter 3

The Neverending Story begins each of the 26 chapters with a full-page drop-cap letter of the alphabet; Chapter 3 begins with “C”

Which chaptering style do you prefer a) in books you read, and b) in your own writing? Let me know in the comments.

About Amos M. Carpenter

Web dev by day, author by night, and generally interested in (and opinionated about) way too many things.

Posted on 3 April, 2014, in A to Z Challenge, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I loved The Neverending Story and have a treasured copy. I tend to give my chapters a title.

  2. Visiting on day 3 of the #atozchallenge with all my fellow writers. I appreciate all the hard work it takes to participate. I hope you make many new blogging friends. Really happy with your post of chapters. Though I find the white type on black print hard to read after awhile, must give this writing blog a chance. Looking forward to following and learning more. Thanks for the time and energy it takes to present.

    • Thanks for dropping by and for the good wishes, I’m very glad you liked the post.

      Can you give me more feedback about why you find it hard to read? Do you find the white (well, light grey) font too bright, or do you mean there’s not enough contrast between the light grey font and the dark grey background? The reason I’m asking is because I’m getting different feedback, some have told me it’s more relaxing for their eyes than black font on white background, but one person said he found the white links were too bright. I enjoy fiddling with CSS, so I’d be more than happy to tweak the site’s styling based on detailed feedback.

  3. A great post. I love short chapters, it always feels like the book is going at a faster pace then and that suits me 😀 Though I did read a book recently where it had no chapters, took a while to get used to, but it worked well, so it shows how much difference there can be between stories and what works for each.

    • Yeah, I don’t think there’s a definite right or wrong way of doing it, or else everyone would be doing it that way. It’s just another way for the author to express him- or herself, though only a few make as much use of it as would be possible. Thanks for the comment, Harliqueen 🙂

  4. How lucky that I found you today! I followed you here from Jodie Llewellyn’s post about chapter length. I’m working on my second draft of my first novel and have been wondering about my chapter lengths. To me it seems natural to start a new chapter when I start a new scene, but I know a lot of authors don’t do that – it makes for some short chapters, but I think I’m going to go with it for now. I can always combine later on if need be. Anyway, I’m interested in checking out your other letters!

    • You followed me here? Woohoo, my first stalker! Just kidding of course, thanks for dropping by and commenting. 😉

      If I can “topically” (is that a word?) combine shorter sections, I’ll make one chapter out of them and just separate with a line of three spaced asterisks, but I won’t go out of my way to make a chapter longer – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with short chapters. Like Harliqueen said, it can increase the pace of the writing as well.

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