Friday, July 20, 2012

Chaptering and episoding

I'm getting interested in the evolutionary purpose of chapters, and so this article about the reasons not to "binge-watch" TV shows struck me as relevant.

A chapter or an episode is a unit itself, and there is meaning resulting from the very existence of a beginning and end. The pause for the reader or viewer before the next one starts creates a different experience than we'd have if we had no break at all. There's a moment (or a week, for TV) of contemplation, of recovery, of return to reality. And there's also the choice to plunge back into the fictive world. 

I am guilty myself of exactly what the article author mentioned. I watched all of S4 of Breaking Bad the other night when I couldn't sleep. And I remember very little of it. It was like eating a meal in twenty minutes. It all tasted good when I was stuffing it in my mouth, but the appetizer and the entree and the dessert are all jumbled up in my memory (and stomach).

I'm thinking about this because I was noticing how common it's become in books for a chapter to start on the same page the last chapter ended (I mean, no page break between chapters). This is especially weird in ebooks, where paper costs are not relevant.  I realize I like that little break, and am not sure why it's been determined to be expendable.

I remember a friend told me that she never put in chapters in the first draft. I do-- I just "know" when it's time for a new chapter.
Kerouac's On the Road manuscript is on display, btw, at my local art museum. It was typed on one long roll of paper. (Pay no attention to the donor of this interesting exhibit, who will always be known in our town as The &^$% Who Released Peyton Manning.)

Anyway,  I'm wondering how you know when you're writing that it's time to start a new chapter. Scenes are organically determined-- one time, one place, more or less, and they end when they end. But chapter divisions are somewhat arbitrary. A chapter might be three scenes or two or one, depending. Depending on what? What decides for you where to start a new chapter?



Willow Wood said...

I'd say I create a new chapter when I've delivered all the relevant information. It gives the reader time to stop and absorb what they've read. Obviously, readers can rush on if they want to, but I'd guess quite a few take a moment to think about what just happened. Also, there's a sense of accomplishment in reading a whole chapter, which is another reason for readers to pause.

Another way I end chapters is after a certain task has been completed, or if the task is half-way competed; end on a cliff-hanger. People need to WANT to know what happens next!

I like the page break between chapters, too. Thanks for sharing the TV binge link and brining up a topic I hadn't really thought about before.

Gayle Carline said...

I like to start a new chapter under a couple of conditions. First is that the previous scene is finished and the next scene is a move forward in time or location. For example, my character is planning to go talk to someone about an important clue. I don't really want to show the minute-by-minute details until then.
Second is a big reveal. Someone opens a package or receives news. I can't resist ending the chapter there. "Tune in for more drama!"

R. E. Hunter said...

I've been wondering about this myself. I haven't reached the point of having to decide when to break chapters yet, but it's really not clear to me how to decide.

I haven't run into any e-books yet without page breaks between chapters. That would be a strange thing to do. I suspect it might be a formatting problem (esp. if self-published) rather than an intentional choice.

Laura Hughes, MittensMorgul said...

I agree with Gayle. I can usually tell where a chapter break should fall when I'm writing. Either the action shifts to a new location, the characters begin a new activity, or a new problem crops up for them. Any dramatic shift in time, mood, or activity needs a new chapter, IMHO.

Laura Hughes, MittensMorgul said...

Phooey. I forgot to add that a minor break in the action, or a narrative digression to set up the next scene, might only need a blank line rather than a complete chapter break. It all depends on how connected to the previous events the new scene is.

Alicia said...

I can see that-- break the chapter when the character has decided to do something.

I tend to write long scenes, sometimes only one per chapter, so usually I'll end where the scene ends.

Jordan McCollum said...

Typically, I'll break chapters because a scene is ending (though I'll have 2-3 scenes per chapter in most books).

But length plays into it a lot, too. Sometimes if a chapter is just too long, I'll cut it in half and create a chapter ending in the middle.

The eBook phenomenon? I hate to say it, but it looks like formatting errors.