I've been thinking about chapters a lot recently. You know, those places where you can put the bookmark between the pages, switch off the bedside lamp and snuggle under the duvet? Except chapters are so much more than markers.
I was talking to my mum about chapter endings recently. 'They're a type of punctuation, really, aren't they?' she said. 'That's EXACTLY what they are!' I cried. I'd never thought about it like that before, but of course she's right. Paragraphs, full stops, chapter endings... They all help us engage with the flow of a story.
During my work on my latest manuscript (and there's been a lot of work!), there's one chapter that I've returned to time and time again. It's relatively low key, with only two characters, a lot of conversation, not much action - and many subtle signals that I need the reader to pick up on. If this early chapter fails, the whole book fails. Why this particular, quiet chapter? Who knows. I didn't set out for it to be this way and it turns out it's true what they say - it's the quiet ones you have to watch.
I try to keep my chapters to a relatively similair word length (this allows me to believe I'm in control of the story!), but I know many writers who do not. I'm not sure it matters either way. The Dan Brown phenomenon of a few years back began a whole debate on quite how short could a short chapter go. Were short chapters the answer to short attention spans? But what about when you want to absolutely lose yourself in a character or scene, when you don't mind missing your stop or have to be nagged into putting the book down? I'm happy to swim in a longer chapter.
A simple Google search throws up reams of blog posts on the perfect chapter length. Any sensible advice tells the reader not to worry about this too much - the story will find its own pace. But my mind keeps returning to that important chapter in my own book. ARE there chapters that are more crucial than others? Should there be? Perhaps these are signpost chapters, gently guiding the reader down the path you want them to follow, like someone guiding a sleepwalker back to their bed to lose themselves in the dream we want them to have.
Writers? Manipulative? Not a bit of it! Now, if I can just crack the perfect cliffhanger chapter ending...
Do you have a theory for composing chapters or a favourite chapter in your own writing?
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