Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Chapters Vs. Scenes

So I was reading this awesome post at QueryTracker today about writing a synopsis and the section on chapters got me thinking.

I don't write in chapters. My brain doesn't understand them. Like, literally - I find it confusing how sometimes a chapter can take place over a period of three days, and another time a chapter ends in the middle of a scene and the next chapter picks up at the exact same place. I can't find the pattern.

I think in scenes and scene sequences - thanks to all my film and screenwriting education, I guess. My first ms is a dual narrative and for the most part each "chapter" is one complete scene or sequence.

H.L. Dyer says at QueryTracker, "Each chapter, like a novel, should have a beginning, middle, and an ending."

This makes sense to me, and I think this is true of my scenes and scene sequences, they are just generally too short to be considered a "typical" chapter. I'm also a fan of the short chapter in fiction, so maybe that says something about me and my writing.

As I'm in the planning stages of my next book, I'm finding the chapter issue interesting. This book will have one narrator and so switching chapters at the end of each scene doesn't quite work with how I want this book to be.

I don't outline, but I do make note of all the major scenes I know need to happen, as well as my beginning through to the inciting incident, and my ending. I'm fascinated by people who use chapter outlines, and know exactly what will be in each chapter when they sit down to write.

I don't know how they do this. But then I also tend to be more fluid with my scenes. I will switch them around and re-order them in order to best build tension, make motivations clear, and keep the story moving forward.

At this point, I feel certain that I will have to write first and separate into chapters later. I will probably but in chapter breaks in places where it feels right, but other than that I won't know where a chapter ends and the next one starts until I finish the story.

What about you? Do you know exactly what your chapters will entail? Do you think in chapters or scenes? Does anyone else split and number chapters after they've written the book? Am I crazy?

9 comments:

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I do outline, but I also think in scenes. But what Heather said, also applies to scenes. For some writers, their scenes = chapters. That might be the case for her books.

Sara McClung ♥ said...

It's weird, I do think in scenes--but while I write I HAVE to organize into chapters. Similar to my need to write in order, I think.

However, I use scrivener so I kind of get the best of both worlds. I break into chapters--but also title all my scenes in the sidebar so I can find them quickly later on :)

Kendal said...

My ideas are always little scenes, and I never know how it will turn into a chapter until I start writing the scene. That said, I still always turn the scene into a chapter before I consider myself done with the scene. I'm not sure why.

Usually my first drafts of these chapters are awful. I don't know what elements are missing until I try to write it, and then my brain needs time to figure it out.

Jill of The O.W.L. said...

I can't think in terms of chapters. I can't outline in that form because they are so "big" I'd get bogged down in trying to plan them out that I'd never get writing! Scenes is the best I can do.

Valerie Kemp said...

You guys are making me feel so much better! I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one who doesn't think in chapters.

@Sara - Scrivener is what finally made it easy for me to not worry about getting the chapters right, or about writing in order. Since I can keep things organized and easy to find.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I think of my chapters as scenes, too. :-)

Becca C. said...

I'm just like you - I think in scenes, and each scene is basically a very short chapter.

Anita Saxena said...

I definitely think in scenes and will often find myself building a chapter around a key scene.

Lily Cate said...

No outlines for me, either.
I've tried, but it was like trying to dance in the bathtub. I felt way too restrained, and I stopped my characters from doing something because it didn't fit with the "plan".
The way I write is much less efficient, but way more fun.

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