Different Types of Chapters

Posted: June 2, 2013 in Novel, Reflections, Writing
Tags: , , , , , ,

In the article I wrote that was published last weekend (you can read it here if you like), I mentioned that chapters and scenes don’t always mean the same thing. Some scenes take up several chapters, while sometimes several chapters are needed for one scene. This got me thinking on the different types of chapters I’ve seen over the years and doing an examination of these sorts of chapters. Hence the post you are currently reading.

I’ve divided the chapter types into three categories. Note that the names are my own creation and if there’s a proper name for these chapter types, then they’ve escaped me. Also, feel free to add any criticism or any fourth type of chapter that I may have missed or I am unaware of by leaving a comment, and I will gladly write a second post.

The Harry Potter chapter

When I wrote Reborn City, I used this chapter format. This type of chapter I first encountered when I read the HP books, so I’ve always associated the type with Harry Potter. However it is by far the most common type of chapter out there, mostly because it is easy to write and can encompass many events within itself, such as when Mr. Dursley has a very odd day, followed by his nephew being left on his porch in the first chapter of Sorcerer’s Stone. And changes of scene within the chapter are very easy to do, as they can be accomplished by a large space between the ends and beginning of sections or a series of asterisks (I prefer using ~~~ though). When I outline this sort of chapter, it usually looks like this:

Chapter 1: Rami Ungar sits down in front of his computer. He has published several novels, but has written nothing new lately and can’t even be inspired by his trusty list of ideas. He decides to write a story about a man haunted by a muse for no reason but to write something, and when he wakes up, he finds said muse on his couch, telling him to continue to write so that she can take form in this world.

Yes, that sounds like a recent movie, but I’d probably put a more sinister twist on it.

The Alex Cross chapter

This is the chapter format I used when writing Snake. I first encountered this format when I read The Da Vinci Code, but I’ve come to associate it with the Alex Cross books since then. In this format, a scene can take up several chapters, each likely very short, and is usually best utilized in the form of a thriller or other fast-paced novel, due to the short chapters heightening the tension before stopping and leaving the tension to continue in the next chapter. When I outline this sort of chapter, it might look like this:

Chapter 1: Rami Ungar wakes up when he hears a noise in the living room. He goes down to investigate with a baseball bat, but when he looks into the mirror hanging on the study door, he sees someone behind him.
Chapter 2: Rami turns around but sees no one there. He looks back in the mirror and sees no one there. He goes back to his room when he hears someone calling his name. He goes into the kitchen and sees a face peering out of the television beckoning for him to come closer.
Chapter 3: The face in the TV tells Rami she will be his muse from now on and will bring him fortune. Rami is stunned.
Chapter 4: Rami accepts the muse’s help and she tells him his name: Melly. Rami thinks it’s a nickname and wonders what it could stand for.

I could actually use this idea if I’m smart and change some names. Don’t steal it!

The Mark Chadbourn chapter

I have yet to use this sort of chapter, but I’m sure I will at some point in the future. This type isn’t named after any sort of literary character, but is named after the fantasy author Mark Chadbourn, who used this style of chapter with his series of nine fantasy books starting with World’s End and ending with Destroyer of Worlds. This format is unique, because it uses chapters, but each chapter is like a section of the story, and it has numbered sub-sections. I find this helpful for novels where there are a lot of different characters and plotlines to follow and you want to switch between characters and plotlines as dramatically as possible without being cheesy. When outlining this sort of story, it usually looks like this:

Chapter 1: Muse Makes Contact
           I: Rami Ungar wakes up and finds a ghostly woman in his room. She calls to him before she disappears.
           II: A witch has a prophetic dream of danger to come and summons her familiar. The witch, whose names is Azzie, tells her familiar Collos to head to Columbus Ohio and investigate an author by the name of Rami Ungar.
           III: Rami goes to work and then to classes, but sees the same ghostly woman everywhere he goes. Also, he feels like he’s being followed…and is then attacked by a man with a knife.

It goes on like that, if you get my drift, and can have any number of subsections. It’s a tough sort of format to pull off, but it works best with stories like this with multiple narratives, and can leave the author the option of working with many different characters at once.

As I’ve demonstrated here, there are many different types of chapters, and probably some that I’m not even aware of. Whatever one you use though, if you use one because you’re comfortable with it or you switch it up depending on the story, it’s probably because you know the story best and therefore you know what sort of chapter is needed. And if you can give your story what is needed, including chapter, then that is one mark of a great author.

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