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Every now and then I come across a novel that is divided into sections. It contains Books 1,2, and 3. Or parts, or sections, or any other method to split the novel into several large chunks.

Should I do this? What are the advantages/disadvantages of dividing a novel into sections? Or is it simply writer preference? Does it actually do something for the reader, or is there no point to it at all? Can it actively harm the novel?

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  • The only downside that comes to mind is that you run the risk of appearing pretentious.
    – EvilSnack
    Apr 28 '17 at 4:43
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They generally announce to the reader the beginning of a new story arc. I think that's about all there is to it. The format of a sequence of short story arcs that combine more or less loosely to form a larger story arc has become something of a TV staple since BTVS popularized it. But it has existed in fiction for a long time. LOTR is an obvious example. Indeed, you can find arcs within arcs within arcs in LOTR. Lots of Dickens is similar. I suspect most long works are.

When we talk about story shapes we tend to focus on the shape of an individual story arc, which is an appropriate thing to do for analytical purposes. But a novel is a much more complex work of art than the shape of a single story arc suggests, and may include many arcs, either in parallel or in serial or both. Dividing a work into parts is a way of indicating the transition from one serial arc to another.

In a complex work, you have to give the reader adequate clues that you have shifted in time or character or arc, and this is just one way to do it. But I would regard is very much as a tool you can use, not a rule you must follow.

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