No Chapters

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Paul Whybrow

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We’ve discussed various aspects of chapters before:

https://colony.litopia.com/threads/chapter-heading-blindness.3749/#post-44804

https://colony.litopia.com/threads/what-do-we-think-about-chapters.5051/#post-60814

https://colony.litopia.com/threads/putting-chapters-in-the-right-place.3399/#post-41020

I’m neat and orderly in how I organise my Cornish Detective novels. I have numbered chapters with titles, and, if the chapters are more than 2,000 words long, I use section breaks to show what different characters are doing at the same time. It’s not just the ex-librarian in me that drives such orderliness, but also an awareness of who reads Crime genre books—females aged 45+—who appreciate consistency.

However, at the moment, I’m reading Terry Pratchett’s Night Watch, a 364 page hardback with no chapters at all, though double-spacing is used to denote section breaks. At first, I found this to be a bit disorientating when reading in bed, as I tend to read to the end of a chapter before turning the light out. The thought of writing without chapters intimidates me. Pratchett wrote most of his Discworld books in this way.

But, writing guru Janice Hardy finds dispensing with chapters liberating, at least for a first draft:

The Freedom of Writing Without Chapters

I kind of did this with my WIP, Kissing & Killing, which I began last summer, as I was in a foul mood, discombobulated by a host of technical gremlins in the first half of the year. I wanted to get something down, so wrote in disconnected chunks, scenes that I’ve been tying together ever since. It’s meant a lot of time-consuming jiggery-pokery, so I intend to be more organised for Book 7.

Various famous novels haven’t had chapters. Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead and Home, which are both slow-moving, but the lack of chapters encourages you to read on as the tension of the story increases. James Dickey (best known for Deliverance) wrote To the White Sea without chapters. The protagonist, a shot-down airman making his way through enemy territory goes into long passages of meditation about his life and nature and fighting which do away with the need for chapters. Cormac McCarthy eschewed chapters in The Road, using dots to separate sections.

How about you?

Do you use chapters?

iu


Sidney Sheldon - Wikipedia
 
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I get the feeling that those who say eliminating chapters is liberating is just finding a justification, an excuse because they can' be bothered, it's too much of an effort but I'm sure readers love chapters. I know, I do and would find it "heavy" having to read a book without them. I value chapters so much that I even think up of a short premise/tag for the existence of that chapter.
 
As a reader, I notice when there are no chapters ... but if the book is a good one, I notice for about 10 seconds and then forget it. I can see how it would work well with a story that was quite linear and didn't change POV--like a movie shot all in one take--there's an urgency to a story that doesn't come up for a breath.

I often write a whole bunch, and then work out where the chapter breaks should be. And more and more often, I'm putting chapter breaks at points where the reader feels a need to turn the page, as in the Sheldon quote above.
 
I just bought a book by a writer I know who did not only do away with chapters but paragraphs as well—just one long block of text through the entire book! Haven’t made it through that one yet.

Personally, I love chapters as a writer—I tend toward vignette style writing, so it’s very organic for me. And coming up with cool titles is icing on the cake (for all us Litopian cake lovers).
 
I often write multi-POV novels with alternating chapters, so the question is moot. For those stories with a single character, I think chapters are still valuable. They give an opportunity to skip time (scene transition) without having to write those dreaded words, "some time later". And they give the reader a chance to place a bookmark and get some sleep. (Convincing the reader to stay up all night to finish the book is a fond dream, but unrealistic in most instances.) I'd like to control the reader experience. I'd rather they say "I'll read to the end of the chapter - just another few pages" - and leave it exactly where I designed a cliffhanger, rather than "No chapters, guess I'll just leave it here" in the middle of a scene full of exposition.

I don't do chapter titles. They're not common in the kind of fiction I read and to me they feel like a gimmick.
 
I often write multi-POV novels with alternating chapters, so the question is moot. For those stories with a single character, I think chapters are still valuable. They give an opportunity to skip time (scene transition) without having to write those dreaded words, "some time later". And they give the reader a chance to place a bookmark and get some sleep. (Convincing the reader to stay up all night to finish the book is a fond dream, but unrealistic in most instances.) I'd like to control the reader experience. I'd rather they say "I'll read to the end of the chapter - just another few pages" - and leave it exactly where I designed a cliffhanger, rather than "No chapters, guess I'll just leave it here" in the middle of a scene full of exposition.

I don't do chapter titles. They're not common in the kind of fiction I read and to me they feel like a gimmick.
What kind of fiction do you read?
 
What kind of fiction do you read?
Um... lots? (Lots of types, not lots of books. I'm not a book-a-day guy.) Science fiction / fantasy, adventures, thrillers, a decent collection of detective fiction.

This question was an education. Out of curiosity I went looking for chapter titles in my library and I learned two things:
1. Chapter titles are far more common than I had thought. The book I am currently reading has chapter titles.
2. I don't seem to notice them.

I would say probably half the books I looked at had chapter titles. Elizabeth George (detective fiction) does not, neither does Val McDermid, but Reginald Hill does. Tom Clancy uses titles. Every book in fantasy I looked at uses chapter titles (Stephen Donaldson, Raymond Feist, Janny Wurtz, Robert Jordan etc), except GRRMartin who simply tells you whose POV the chapter will be, and Terry Pratchett who didn't use chapters.

Which all begs the question: do readers expect chapter titles, and should I be including them?
 
Um... lots? (Lots of types, not lots of books. I'm not a book-a-day guy.) Science fiction / fantasy, adventures, thrillers, a decent collection of detective fiction.

This question was an education. Out of curiosity I went looking for chapter titles in my library and I learned two things:
1. Chapter titles are far more common than I had thought. The book I am currently reading has chapter titles.
2. I don't seem to notice them.

I would say probably half the books I looked at had chapter titles. Elizabeth George (detective fiction) does not, neither does Val McDermid, but Reginald Hill does. Tom Clancy uses titles. Every book in fantasy I looked at uses chapter titles (Stephen Donaldson, Raymond Feist, Janny Wurtz, Robert Jordan etc), except GRRMartin who simply tells you whose POV the chapter will be, and Terry Pratchett who didn't use chapters.

Which all begs the question: do readers expect chapter titles, and should I be including them?
I think that’s a personal choice—you have to be true to yourself and what makes sense for your book
 
I've come to the conclusion from talking to readers that the average reader doesn't notice 90% of the stuff that we writers get totally worked up about. Things like chapter titles, prologues/epilogues, when to spell out numbers, when to use an em-dash or a semi-colon, the Oxford comma ... as long as we don't do anything glaringly out of the ordinary (and even sometimes when we do) most readers won't be able to remember what we did after they close the book. Even I couldn't tell you whether the last book I read had chapter titles (but I can tell you it was a ripping good story).
 
I've come to the conclusion from talking to readers that the average reader doesn't notice 90% of the stuff that we writers get totally worked up about.
I agree completely. And as for my own take on chapter titles, I usually don't see them and if I do, they tend to annoy me. They feel like authorial intrusion, like being on a rollercoaster, with all attendant emotion, and suddenly being magicked off to a small dark room where a fusty teacher in tweeds wants to read you some poetry.
 
Perhaps. But really, I wasn't disparaging teachers of any kind. I was simply making a point about how sudden changes in context can be jarring. In a novel, in a chapter heading, such changes can be used to great effect, but I think it's a rare thing.

I think Pratchett got away without writing chapters because he used plenty of blank-line scene breaks, and his scenes were usually perfectly crafted, so there's always plenty of opportunity to put his books down at bedtime, or not if they've hooked you.

Do you use chapters?
Yes, numbered ones.
 
It’s so subjective isn’t it? I tend to read for language and character more than story/plot, so I’m not usually riding a roller coaster. I don’t mind the author drawing my attention ‘out of the story’ and into the language—if it’s done well it’s lovely (you know those books where you have to stop and re-read a sentence for the beauty of the language e.g. Cormac McCarthy)
 
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