I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned the hard way that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, and taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.
What is a Chapter? - Understanding the Structure and Use of Chapters in Novels
A chapter is more than a more than a random chunk of story. The best way to think of a chapter is as a mini-story within the overall story that you are telling. A chapter is self-contained and events within a chapter tend to be linked in some way. Even if two completely separate events are shown in different scenes, there will always be an implications of those events being connected, either through time or circumstance.
It is important to remember this as a writer because your audience certainly will not forget this fact, and may not appreciate scenes being randomly linked together within a chapter if they are not connected.
So to reiterate - a chapter has it’s own beginning, middle and end, complete with a climax. Your protagonist(s) will have a goal within that chapter, conflicts that they will have to deal with, and some sort of resolution that progresses your reader into the next chapter of your novel.
But of course, it’s not that easy, is it? Not by a long shot. There are a lot of other things to consider, but this is a good starting point for understanding chapters and how to use them in storytelling.
Now that we’re talking about chapters, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of discussing the structure of chapters.
As we already said, chapters are more than just a chunk of story. Chapters are typically made up of several smaller components - otherwise known as “scenes.” How many scenes does a chapter typically need? That’s up to you, the story you’re trying to tell, and a number of other factors.
If you really want a good starting point for chapter structure then 3-5 scenes works well for most writers.
So let’s craft a chapter based on this sort of “structure.” In this chapter, my protagonist has the goal of hunting down a demon that has been terrorizing the city she protects. The plan is for her to meet the demon and to discover that he is actually a fellow vigilante.
Okay, so that’s pretty basic. I need to come up with a lot more for that to function as a full chapter. But you can see that it works as a full chapter, as it does tell a full story. So let’s get into the scenes.
Scene 1 - Protagonist meets with her mentor to discuss the problem of the demon. She notices some odd things about the demon’s behaviors when the mentor discusses him that give her doubt.
Scene 2 - Protagonist is out on patrol and manages to catch sight of the demon. She follows him but quickly loses him.
Scene 3 - Protagonist in her daily life. She is thinking about the demon so much that he is becoming almost an obsession. She ends up discussing him with a friend of hers.
Scene 4 - Protagonist is out on patrol again. While trying to find the demon she ends up in a nasty fight with even worse monsters. The demon ends up saving her life and she realizes that he is a vigilante like herself.
In this structure we have a goal - a conflict/complication - a climax - and a story shift at the end of the chapter. This shift is important as it makes for a chapter that will keep your reader wanting to move on to the next part of the story to see what happens next.
(Any shift in story, whether it’s a change in time, POV, or a dramatic turn of events is a good time to break for a new chapter, FYI.)
Anyway, I have a lot more to say regarding scenes, so I’ll leave this mini lesson off for now.
The world’s not black and white. Life doesn’t have good guys and bad guys or a beginning, middle, and end. Not while you’re living it. It’s just people doing stuff that’s beautiful or stupid or somewhere in the middle.
Day Six was always intended to be a bit of an opus, and I was sort of grappling with how to present it. So in an attempt not to make it 20,000 words and a bit all over the place, I’m going with a beginning, middle, end break-down (which also allows for quicker updates, huzzah hurrah!). (I’m also just arbitrarily increasing total part numbers as this goes on. Don’t mind me…) Onward, the beginning. =)
James wakes up the
morning of Day Six disoriented, hungover, and with a general sense of delayed
It takes a moment to
piece it all together. Ugh. Ah. Several moments. What…he
thinks at nearly the same time as Please do not vomit in your mouth. There’s
a noise, a call. (A voice?) He will open his eyes in a second, he’s sure. As
soon as his head quits spinning.
spinning, from the sleep, the drink (he needs to quit drinking)… but
mostly from all the questions, questions, questions.
Kendrick Lamar started the day by sharing the above photo and ended it by blessing the world with a new single, “The Heart Part 4.” Lamar calls himself a savior plus calls out Donald Trump and Jay-Z. He also calls out white and black people in his latest single that is almost 5 minutes long. The song has a beginning, middle and end and is classic Lamar. He also warns to get your shit together by April 7th. Could his fourth album be released in less than a month?? Kendrick is gonna have hip hop fans saying Drake who? This latest single continues to solidify Lamar’s status as the greatest rapper of this generation. What do you think of Kendricks’s new song?
You’ll often hear that every story can fit into the three-act structure that you’re taught from very early on. This is mostly true, since ever story has a beginning, a middle, and an end, but stories are much more complex than that, and some will require more advanced structures to really plan out all the important plot points.
The four-act structure is something that I like to build off of a lot, which is really just the three-act structure, but the second act is broken into two parts.
So, when I’m planning my story I’ll break the whole plot up into four parts:
Act I: the inciting incident
Act II: the new world
Act III: the build-up
Act IV: the resolution
And usually once I’m done with this I’ll break the story into twelve parts:
1. the ordinary world
2. the inciting incident
3. crossing the threshold
4. tests, allies, and enemies
5. exploring the new world
6. the lowest point
7. the turn
8. the build-up
9. approach to the inmost cave
10. the climax
11. the twist
12. the resolution
This is mostly based on The Hero’s Journey, but it’s more of just a general outline of how I structure my stories. And like with the hero’s journey, some of the parts can be switched around if necessary. The only reason I don’t really use the hero’s journey is because it doesn’t accurately reflect the length of each act, since some acts with the hero’s journey have four parts and others only have two, but with this version each act is neatly broken into three parts.
Next time you’re watching a movie, try to break down each part as it happens, then you can use this structure for your own screenplays. And of course there are many other types of story structures, so don’t get stuck in the idea that this is the only way to write a story, it’s mainly just a good jump off point from the three-act structure.