The satisfaction of a well-structured chapter

Oh, the woes joys of editing. I’ve encountered another chapter in my manuscript that needs to be split in two. It’s way too long as a stand-alone chapter and includes far too much information. I can just imagine how excited I must have been when writing it that such things must have appeared so trivial in that rare moment of inspiration.

Sometimes whilst editing my first draft, I find myself wondering what on earth I was thinking when I wrote a specific section, paragraph and the like. Most of the time it’s the chapters that make me cringe. It could be too short and uneventful, or too long and busy. I spoke a little about pacing not too long ago (click here to read it) and chapter layout is just as important in my opinion.

First and foremost; the length is key. Depending on your genre, the length of a chapter will vary, but for YA specifically, the average length is usually about 3,500-4,500 words. I like to imagine a person reading in bed just before sleeping, and only having the time to read one chapter before they must go to sleep. That was usually what it was like for me as a student with piles of homework to do every night, or when I was working full-time and went to bed completely drained of energy. That one chapter was a lovely little habit of mine – kind of like a mini-episode that brought down my stress levels. I’m not saying that everyone is like that, of course, but we tend to use ourselves as our number one reference point. So, for that reason, I try to keep my chapters at an average length.

The second thing is the content division. I prefer having the following division in my chapters:

  • One major event/scene.
  • One or two minor events/scenes.
  • A couple of in-between-montages to tie it all together.

I find that this division gives my chapters a neat and organised feel to them. Naturally, this isn’t some kind of rule (that I’m aware of), it’s just my personal preference when reading and writing, and I try my best to stick to it – even if I sometimes get too excited and forget all about it.

There are exceptions, though. For example, when you get to the middle- or end climax of the manuscript and things start to get more and more exciting. I find these sections super difficult to write, and I know I’m not alone in this. I simply try to remember how I feel when reading the climax of a book and try not to cut off in weird places during the action.

Now to the third and final thing: the Ending. Knowing how to end a chapter is an art in itself. There are quite a lot of opinions on this subject, and I won’t go through them all today. What I try to do is simply to find a good spot for a montage, like, say, after a certain impactful scene is finished. This is a good place for a new “hook”, or question to be raised, thus ending the chapter on an interesting note but not as far as calling it a cliff-hanger.

There can be cliff-hangers, but far from often. I get really annoyed when I read a book with a cliff-hanger in every chapter. I feel like it’s a cheap way to make your reader continue, instead of just making your story and characters interesting enough for them to want to continue. Even worse is when the cliff-hanger isn’t resolved right away in the next chapter – ooh that sort of thing makes me see red. Don’t do that, that’s all I’m saying.

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Anyway. That was a lot of ranting about chapters. Let me know if you agree or disagree with any of my opinions, I’d love to hear what people think.

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