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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » on section breaks and chapters

   
Author Topic: on section breaks and chapters
honu
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I have been breaking up sections in my stories whenever I change locations or povs//// I don't know if that's really the way to do it though///also when one writes chapters for novel length works///whats a good breaking length word wise for chapter lengths? thanks
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dee_boncci
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For the most part, marking POV changes with at least section breaks/scene breaks is the most common approach--it's cleanest and easiest for a reader to follow. It is not an absolute rule, as you'll occasionally find authors who switch POV within a scene with only a new paragraph to mark the shift.

I don't know of any standards for chapter lengths, although from memory ten to fifteen pages seems most common. Maybe look for places where logical breaks occur, places where a reader can pause for a breath.

As a reader my favorite approach is what GRR Martin has done in the Song of Fire and Ice series. Each chapter is from a single POV and bears the name of the POV character.


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Christine
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You're on the right track on section breaks.

Chapter breaks are very arbitrary. More so than section breaks, even. You can cut a chapter in mid-word if you think it would achieve the effect you're going for.

You can have long chapters, short chapters, or alternating length chapters, You can change by location, POV, or cliffhanger.

The shortest chapter in the novel I just finished was just about 1,000 words. The longest was almost 7,000. So I didn't cut based on length. I sort of have a feel for my chapters that I can't put into words. I just get this feeling and I stop, then start with the next chapter.


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tchernabyelo
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Yes, there's no hard and fast rule on what makes for a "chapter". I tend to feel that a chapter should end in such a way that, although it's a "convenient" place to put a book down, it makes damn sure that you want to pick it back up again (I've read at least one very popular, well-regarded book that, though I thoroughly enjoyed reading the first half, when I DID put it down to do other things... I found I wasn't actually tempted to pick it back up. Weird but true). Sometimes this is with a cliff-hanger (physical or emotional), sometimes it's through closure of a mini-arc while making it perfectly clear that there's stil the bigger, outer arc of story that you still want to get to. never, ever end a chapter where there's no apprent reason for the reader to continue (e.g. if you have a mystery and the characters *think* they have resolved it, even though they haven't, do NOT end a chapter there; have that in the middle of the chapter, and end the chapter with their realisation that all is not what it seemed).

Uh, I guess you could sum it up with "end every chapter with a hook".


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honu
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very good comments guys thanks!!

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BenM
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The section breaks question is an interesting one to me too.

I have tended to fly by the seat of my pants and break when it seemed appropriate - at a crisis or decision to keep the reader hooked and usually with time/focus/setting changes for my pov character.

I notice however in certain books that a section might start off with consistently telling the story at a certain time, then in a paragraph find itself several months later (this I most recently noticed when re-reading Ender's Game) so I suspect my intuition about time/focus/setting might not be fully on the mark.

Since I understand it's perfectly acceptable to break the rules as long as one knows why and when to do it, I'm intending to borrow Bickham's Scene & Structure from the library this afternoon to set myself a little straighter before starting the next project.


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