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Where and when to make a chapter break: Editor's Notes #399
September 06, 2023

The first chapter sells the book; the last chapter sells the next book.
—Mickey Spillane

In this issue:

1. I can maKea chapTer. break
2. Tickled my funny bone
3. Interesting Web site
4. Writing prompt

1.I can maKea chapTer. break
Words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters are all signalled by breaks. Words have spaces between them — most of the time. And when they don’t, the text is hard to read and can be ambiguous.

Sentences begin with capital letters and end with specific punctuation marks. We know where to put the capital letters and the end punctuation marks because we know the rules for making sentences. In most cases, a noun and a verb work together, often with many other words, to express a complete thought.

Paragraphs, groups of closely related sentences, are signalled by an extra line break or by indentation of the first line.

Chapters are usually made up of many paragraphs, and the breaks are signalled by beginning on a new page. Sometimes the chapters are numbered or have chapter titles.

Where exactly to make a chapter break bedevils many writers. Note that the number of words or pages is not the best way to decide to make a chapter break. It may help to think of chapter breaks as signals to the reader that a change in orientation is afoot. Here are some shifts that commonly call for chapter breaks:
  • Shifts in place
  • Shifts in time
  • Shifts in significant plot elements
  • Shifts in Point of view (POV) There are multiple narrators or multiple characters through whose perspective the story is told.

Where to put the chapter breaks is important. Less important, but still a consideration, is when to make the decision about placement. Sometimes a book’s content will break naturally into chapters. Many text books are like this. Publishers of some children’s books sometimes create series with chapters of specific lengths. In these cases, the decision is not really your own. But if you do make the choice, know that whether you are a person who outlines the whole book before writing a word or a person who plunges in to see where the story leads, you can create (and rework) your chapter breaks whenever it suits you. That you ultimately get the breaks in places that satisfy the reader is much more important than when you decide where to put the breaks.

A note on the title of this article: I taught Primary children for more than thirty years. When they begin to write seriously, they try out all sorts of conventions, often ending up with something like the title. We can all read it, but you don’t want to be using hit and miss rules like those little kids do when you submit your writing to a publisher or put it out into the world as a self-published author. Those who know won’t be fooled, so learn the conventions, including the conventions of using chapter breaks, and stay within them unless you have a really good reason to break them.

2.Tickled my funny bone
Dr.’s notes: Patient had waffles for breakfast and anorexia for lunch.

3. Interesting Web site
The readability of this Web page is much higher than what I usually link to, but I found the information interesting, so if you are prepared, dive in.

4. Writing prompt
Break is one of those words I love to riff on because there are so many ways to use it. Write a short piece where someone confuses two uses of the word break. Tragic, funny, informative? That’s up to you. As always, I’d love to see what you do.

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