Subchapters within chapters?

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Subchapters within chapters?

Postby Guardian » 16 Jan 2011, 14:38

I'm curious is it acceptable if I'm dividing a chapter to subchapters to present the reader they're reading the very same chapter, but also to don't feel a long chapter long at all. As the numbers are playing a great role in my WIP, including the chapter numbers, each volumes, with the exception of the last one must have nine chapters... which is making the chapters long. But I also don't want ot force the reader to read very-very long chapters.

i.e. is this approach is acceptable if Chapter 1 is starting as Chapter 1 - Title, then at an exact point I'm adding a subchapter without a number? As my WIP is using a "Prologue, Main storyline, Epilogue" setup in each chapters, I'm thinking to divide each chapters to three or more subchapters... somehow. But I don't want to use numbers in the subchapter titles at all, just at the beginning of each major chapters. But I don't have a clue how to solve it.
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Re: Subchapters within chapters?

Postby Watcher55 » 16 Jan 2011, 14:59

Guardian wrote:I'm curious is it acceptable if I'm dividing a chapter to subchapters to present the reader they're reading the very same chapter, but also to don't feel a long chapter long at all. As the numbers are playing a great role in my WIP, including the chapter numbers, each volumes, with the exception of the last one must have nine chapters... which is making the chapters long. But I also don't want ot force the reader to read very-very long chapters.

i.e. is this approach is acceptable if Chapter 1 is starting as Chapter 1 - Title, then at an exact point I'm adding a subchapter without a number? As my WIP is using a "Prologue, Main storyline, Epilogue" setup in each chapters, I'm thinking to divide each chapters to three or more subchapters... somehow. But I don't want to use numbers in the subchapter titles at all, just at the beginning of each major chapters. But I don't have a clue how to solve it.


What you call "subchapters" I call "sections". I don't have a set structure as far as the number of chapters in a volume, but I do have chapters where the experiences of one set of characters intersect/collide with the experiences of another set of characters. The way I handle it is to simply skip a line between the "sections". Each section is independent and I try to take care that each section represents a convenient "stopping point".

The biggest problem is making sure the POV shifts don't clash or derail the reader's sense of continuity.

I've seen this technique used over and over and as a reader I find myself looking ahead for those line spaces so I can plan how much time I'm going to spend in one sitting.
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Re: Subchapters within chapters?

Postby Guardian » 16 Jan 2011, 15:04

Right now I'm using three stars, * * * , where I'm switching (So the usual trick what I use also between different scenes.), but sometimes it's not enough for some readers, but they want shorter chapters instead (Something what I can't do in this case.).
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Re: Subchapters within chapters?

Postby Watcher55 » 16 Jan 2011, 15:20

Two suggestions come to mind (maybe as the idea/problem rolls around in my brain more will form).

1. Treat it like a play - Act I scene 1 - scene 2 - scene 3 Act II scene 1...
The problem here might be one of consistency since you may want the same number of "scenes"/subchapters for every "Act"/Chapter.

2. Use Roman numerals for chapters I II III IV and Arabic numbers for sections 1 2 3 4. This might eliminate the need for a consistent number of sections.
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Re: Subchapters within chapters?

Postby Moni12 » 16 Jan 2011, 15:25

Guardian,
I think I know what you're talking about and I don't see a problem with it. I've read plenty of other books that do the same and I have done it with my WIP. Some books don't even use chapters, they just split the work into unmarked sections. Terry Pratchett is one who does this.
I admit I'm one who doesn't like long chapters, but as long as I can find a good stopping point in between chapters I'm cool with long ones.
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Re: Subchapters within chapters?

Postby Guardian » 16 Jan 2011, 15:30

Moni12 wrote:Guardian,
I admit I'm one who doesn't like long chapters, but as long as I can find a good stopping point in between chapters I'm cool with long ones.

Yes, I'm intending to use these checkpoints to have a chance to stop between the longer scenes. Also could you tell me the title of the novel where Terry Pratchett did this? Maybe I should study how he solve it.
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Re: Subchapters within chapters?

Postby Guardian » 16 Jan 2011, 15:33

Watcher55 wrote:1. Treat it like a play - Act I scene 1 - scene 2 - scene 3 Act II scene 1...
The problem here might be one of consistency since you may want the same number of "scenes"/subchapters for every "Act"/Chapter.

This sounds acceptable from my part, but maybe agents won't like this approach.
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Re: Subchapters within chapters?

Postby Watcher55 » 16 Jan 2011, 15:40

Guardian wrote:
Watcher55 wrote:1. Treat it like a play - Act I scene 1 - scene 2 - scene 3 Act II scene 1...
The problem here might be one of consistency since you may want the same number of "scenes"/subchapters for every "Act"/Chapter.

This sounds acceptable from my part, but maybe agents won't like this approach.


I was a little vague on this one as it is incomplete. Instead of "Act" and "Scene", use ["Chapter" and "Section"] or ["Chapter" and "Part"].
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Re: Subchapters within chapters?

Postby Guardian » 16 Jan 2011, 16:09

I was a little vague on this one as it is incomplete. Instead of "Act" and "Scene", use ["Chapter" and "Section"] or ["Chapter" and "Part"].

Oh, I see. Thanks.
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Re: Subchapters within chapters?

Postby Moni12 » 16 Jan 2011, 17:18

As far as I know he does this with all his Discworld novels. I would recommend Soul Music, I just read it and think it's amazing. In case you're unfamiliar with these they don't need to be read in any particular order.
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Re: Subchapters within chapters?

Postby Guardian » 16 Jan 2011, 19:46

Thanks, Moni. I'm definitely going to check it out.
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Re: Subchapters within chapters?

Postby Moni12 » 16 Jan 2011, 19:56

I should point out that there's another book called Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko that does this. Except, the sections go between present time and flashbacks so it gets really confusing. If you do add flashbacks just make sure that your readers can easily make the distinction.
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Re: Subchapters within chapters?

Postby polymath » 16 Jan 2011, 21:30

Chapter, subchapter, and section are dramatic units which like a whole are in themselves completed actions. They individually complete a discovery and/or a reversal of circumstances.

In my sense of overly long chapters the concern might be too long, too complicated, or too distractedly getting through a discovery and/or reversal action. Subchapters divide a larger action into its component contributing parts. Same with section divisions.

A fix is to break it down into simpler parts. A useful tool is to identify and outline the purpose and/or complication of any given dramatic unit. For example, a novel, to resolve a high magnitude complication. An opening chapter, discovering that all is not right with the protagonist's circumstances, an inciting reversal that compels action, purposed efforts to understand and resolve that complication.

Subchapters of such a chapter might break down into setup of the complication, recognition of the complication, first effort to explore the complication, first discovery of the parameters of the complication, first reversal caused by a setback of what at first seemed a simple problem and wasn't so simple, a discovery in itself, and a transition setting up the second effort to address the complication in the subsequent chapter.
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Re: Subchapters within chapters?

Postby Guardian » 17 Jan 2011, 11:14

Thanks Polymath.
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Re: Subchapters within chapters?

Postby dios4vida » 18 Jan 2011, 08:33

Guardian wrote:Right now I'm using three stars, * * * , where I'm switching (So the usual trick what I use also between different scenes.), but sometimes it's not enough for some readers, but they want shorter chapters instead (Something what I can't do in this case.).


This is how I write also and I love it when the novels I'm reading do it, too. It just makes sense to my brain, and I'd much much much rather see that than have to read a 50 page chapter.
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