Chapters and scenes play different roles in a novel, and you’d be forgiven if you believed the two were one and the same. But they’re not! Whereas chapters are obvious in a novel, scenes are subtle structural parts. In this weeks post, we’re going to break down the functional elements of scenes and delve into the creative aspects of chapters.
Chapters are creative decisions put in place to develop pacing, and while they seem to hold an air of structure, really they serve to capture the reader’s intrigue and hook them into your story. This isn’t just employed at the beginning of your Novel but is continuously done at the start and finish of each chapter, to entice your reader to finish one more chapter, then another, until finally, they’ve invested in the story as a whole. For more tips on this read: How To Hook A Reader_from the first sentence.
Novels can be written with as little, or as many chapters as you desire. Long chapters give a sense of leisurely pace, while shorter chapters ramp up the tension. They can even merely contain a single sentence. While some novels break each chapter into a new POV, this is also entirely up to the writer.
Scenes are made up of structural bones, containing the goal, conflict and subsequent disaster. Followed by the sequel; reaction, dilemma, and decision.
If your new to these concepts read these post, Four Ways To Structure Your Novel and How To Plan Your Protagonist’s Journey, where I explain them more fully.
Each scene is a domino. When set up correctly, scenes create a seamless line of cause and effect that almost effortlessly powers your entire plot.
- K.M. Weiland
How you fit chapters and scenes into your novel is entirely up to you. A chapter can encompass a full scene, but it does not have to. Once you understand the differences between the two, you can develop the pacing, its hooks, and twists around the structure of the scenes. This may well depend on the needs of your story and the goals of your characters. Maybe you choose to divide the elements of a scene over many chapters.
While the cycle of chapter breaks reveals the flow of the novel, scene breaks reveal shifts within the story. There are hard and soft breaks to help define those elements.
Hard Breaks: These are usually highlighted by two lines between paragraphs. Alternatively, in a manuscript, it will be represented by a hashtag. But in novels, you may well find a symbol, three asterisks or a long-dash in the centre of the page. These indicate one of the following: A shift in character POV, a large jump in time such as flashbacks, or the introduction of a new setting or scene.
Soft Breaks: These indicate a smaller shift and can be a subtle pacing tool, represented by one space between paragraphs. They are minor shifts in settings or time, and where the scene is continuous with its flow. E.g. the characters move to another setting whilst continuing their conversation.
If you’re confused by the whole confounded mess of scenes vs chapters, my advice is to play around and trust your instinct, you’re probably already on the right track. But mastering a new technique only serves to strengthen your craft. This is the joy of being an artist!
How do you use chapters and scenes? Together, or do you like to mix things up? Maybe you’ve never considered it much and prefer to let instinct and creativity rule? Either way, why don’t you share your thoughts, you know I love hearing from you.
Thanks for stopping by. Until next time, Much Love.