How to Logically Divide a Novel into Chapters
By Bhalachandra Sahaj
About a week ago, one of my writing friends asked me to take a look at his new novel draft; although I was rather busy with my own novel, I agreed to his request. I spent two days reading my friend’s novel before I finally understood that I understood nothing.
Well, I am exaggerating—his novel was not badly written; there was, however, a rather confusing moment: it was difficult to follow the course of events. I told him about this, and together we started to analyze his writing, chapter by chapter….
Chapters! This is what was wrong with his novel. Or, to be more exact, the way my friend divided his writing into parts. To be honest, it was a mess; some chapters were over-saturated with events and action, while others looked more like fillers; sometimes he would break a scene in the middle only to continue it two or three chapters later; sometimes what seemed to be the main event in the chapter would occur in the middle, and the rest of the chapter looked like pointless and watery verbiage.
Perhaps, I didn’t get his creative method; I assume I might have missed something. But, what I am sure of is that a story written like that is difficult to follow. I prefer a different approach to structuring my stories: one main event per chapter.
In my opinion, each chapter should revolve around what I call a Plot Driver: something that causes characters’ actions and/or events to occur—something that logically moves the story from one milestone to another, until the finale. All other events and/or actions described in a chapter should build up suspense or somehow lead to the Plot Driver.
I cannot say whether these Plot Drivers should possess the same significance: I think it depends on your story. But what I am sure of is that there should be just one Plot Driver per chapter; two is acceptable in case you describe intense action, or when there is a sudden plot twist. However, more than this will make your story harder to comprehend, so be careful.
As for the length of chapters, it does not matter. Generally, it depends on the length of your novel, but usually, 15-20 pages is more than enough for a chapter. Some writers believe chapters should be approximately of the same length (including myself, but I’m a perfectionist)—others don’t, so I guess it’s up to you.
Well, this is it. I never seriously thought about structuring novels until this occasion with my friend; I think most writers divide their novels into chapters intuitively, and this is probably the best way to tell a story.