Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Chapterless Writing

This is something I've mentioned before, but I thought it might be worth its own post to talk a bit more about my writing process. I've got a bit of a funny relationship with chapters, I don't work with them in the same way that others might. Basically I will write one long first draft (with breaks) and it might not be until the third or fourth pass that I put chapter divisions in. What are the benefits of this approach?


  • It helps me follow the flow of the story more easily. Our lives don't have breaks, it's just one continuous onslaught of events, so it also allows the characters to come alive.
  • Once I've refined the story a bit, I can see where peaks and troughs occur in terms of pacing and that helps delineate where chapters start and end.
  • Although I've started to introduce a bit more plotting, I'm still a pantser at heart and writing one big block of text allows for various diversions without worrying about how they're going to affect chapter structures.
  • The action can be reordered as required to create chapters of roughly equal length, although I don't think this is as hyper-important as ensuring that each chapter works as a self-contained unit.
  • I haven't yet gone to the step of publishing a book without chapters, although the majority of Terry Pratchett's books appeared in this way. The advantage of this approach is that it doesn't allow the reader to pause for breath and hopefully they'll keep reading for as long as is practicable.

What's your relationship with chapters like? Do you write in chapters from the start or is it a secondary consideration?

15 comments:

JeffO said...

Interesting post, Nick, thanks for sharing. For me, it really happens on a case-by-case basis. Somewhere in the drafting process, I do start thinking about the structure of the manuscript and start finagling a bit with Part/Chapter/Subchapter, though I don't sweat it TOO much during the drafting stage.

My current project started out deliberately as chapterless, though I did pop in scene breaks (marked with a centered #) and I think I had two spots that seemed like good separations between parts I, II, and III. When I go back for the re-read, I'll have a better sense of what it should be, I think.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

LOL - I have a certain author who does that. He doesn't even break it into chapters when he sends me the manuscript.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Interesting! Lately, I've been doing more planning than I usually do, and I've been breaking my drafts into scenes instead of chapters.

DRC said...

Oooh...I couldn't. That spark of OCD in me needs chapters when I write. Even first drafts are writen as if it's the final polished version - which is far from the truth...lol. But I do find different processes interesting and seeing as you listed the benefits I can understand why some may prefer to work that way.

Liz A. said...

Sounds good. I find that as I'm writing that first draft, chapters kind of appear. I just feel like a chapter break should go... there. But, of course, that can change in future drafts. I like your way. I'm sure eventually there'll be a project where it'll work for me.

Sarah Foster said...

I'm not really sure how I figure out chapters, but I usually break them apart as I go. Sometimes they change as I edit, though. I've started to favor shorter chapters with not too many scenes in them.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Nick - as I don't write books - I'm not sure, but can see why you're doing it. I'd hate to read a book like that! But then Terry Pratchett developed his own style ...

Did you do that for the A-Z stories and then just broke them down to the ABCs? I think I'd definitely need to plan if I wrote a book, or I'd write separate parts and then bring the thing together ...

Good luck though - cheers Hilary

Deniz Bevan said...

I'm half and half, I suppose. I put in a lot of scene breaks, but it's only on the second or third reread, with the story printed out, that I figure out exactly where the chapter breaks ought to be. It's definitely not something that's clear on the first draft!

Annalisa Crawford said...

I always put in too many chapters, and have to remove them later on in the process. I've read a couple of books without chapters - after a while, you don't even notice they're not there.

Gina Gao said...

I always like books with more chapters because it makes me feel a sense of accomplishment when I get to move on to the next chapter in my reading.


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The Cynical Sailor said...

I outlined my book and set up chapters, but now that I'm in the process of editing it, I'm finding some of my original chapter breaks don't necessarily work now. Maybe I'll try chapterless writing next time.

Donna K. Weaver said...

I did that with my first book because I didn't know where to do the breaks. lol

Patricia Lynne said...

I do the exact same thing. I just put breaks in and during editing I go through and figure out where good chapter breaks should be.

Darla M Sands said...

That's an interesting question. And I like the points you make. My stories didn't have chapters at all when I first drafted them. But now as rewrites become more major, the earlier stories changing the latter plot lines, I find myself inserting chapters as I go. Maybe I'll stop doing that and see how that works. Thank you for sharing!

koi seo said...

though I don't sweat it TOO much during the drafting stage.


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