I'm looking for methods of planning chapters for books. I always saw structures and scripting in the macro level, but never in the micro level.

5 Answers 5


I'd consider a chapter either a "movement" in a story, or a setting in a story (and sometimes it is both).

A "movement" is when a character (or more than one) goes from one governing mental state to another governing mental state. For example, Cindy's initial mental state is "normal life", she wakes up, eats, runs, dresses, goes to work. On her way to work, she witnesses a murder. Now, if she is a normal person, she is in a new mental state, we might call it "Holy Shit Panic". Or if you prefer, "extreme alarm". That is a good chapter break.

A locale change, for a chapter break, is when you want to skip the mundane BS of travel or getting somewhere or time going by. You can often do that with exposition; e.g.

Cindy finished her three miles, and walking back into the front door realized she was running mindlessly, she couldn't remember a thing about what she had seen. She arrived at work fifteen minutes early. Just as well, the Brafield account was still a puzzle and she was behind on it.

But you can also do it with a chapter break: Reader's presume any "lost time" between chapters was uneventful. So Cindy leaves for her run, and that is the end of the Chapter. The next chapter can begin hours, days or weeks later.

You can make this less jarring by ending one chapter with a task to be done, and beginning the next chapter with the task complete, with as much time passed as you want. The task may or may not be important to the plot, it can be just a patch of "something that happened" in the intervening time.

So maybe Cindy leaves on her run, determined to figure out some way to solve the puzzle of the Brayfield account. The next chapter picks up with her being congratulated for her brilliant work on the Brayfield account. We might want that to serve a greater purpose, so that congratulations could actually lead to a plot point: Cindy you did such a good job, I want you to take a look at this other account: For a guy that happens to be a mobster and is lethal to even know. Or For the prince that will become the love of her life. Whatever your plot is.

In general, you want to end chapters in a way that leaves readers wanting to find out what happens in the next chapter. That does NOT have to be a cliffhanger, it can be mild, but be sure to break in a place where there should be some question in the reader's mind about "what happens next".

In the case of Cindy witnessing a murder, the reader wants to know what she does next. Chapter endings are generally dramatic turning points so there is a fresh situation or determination or plan or knowledge or realization, and the reader wants to see what happens with that new situation.

Other than that, it is up to you how many you create; I've seen anywhere from 10 to 40 in a novel, and chapters less than two pages long. I'd look for the breakpoints as I described, and use them as you see fit. If two are very close together, or you think some are weak breakpoints, you don't have to use every one you find.

  • So you do something like "Chapter 1, Cindy is at a normal mental state, but then, she witness a murder. Chapter 2, Cindy is in an alert state, so, she tries to know what is going on. Chapter 3, Cindy still is in an alert state, but then, a detective appears and thinks she's the murderer." I guess you leave it open if the chapters changes depending on the movement of the plot, or the movement of the character. Either the character changes or the plot changes (or even the ambient changes). That's an excellent answer, Amadeus.
    – Hanilucas
    Dec 22, 2017 at 13:21
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    In your example here, chapter 2 should end with something: She learned something new, or she realizes she has drawn the attention of law enforcement by poking around and asking questions, or finds out the person she saw killed had her name in his pocket, or whatever. If Ch2 is about her investigation, the end of Ch2 has advanced that investigation to reveal something of significance to the plot. Perhaps Ch2 ends with the detective appearing. Cindy calmly assumes she was seen on a video camera and found as a witness. But in Ch3 his interrogation reveals to her she is his main suspect.
    – Amadeus
    Dec 22, 2017 at 13:36
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    ... But that said, yes, Ch2 could just break because she is at a dead end, needs sleep, whatever and you (the author) need some time to pass for it to be plausible a detective appears next.
    – Amadeus
    Dec 22, 2017 at 13:38
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    I forgot to mention that new chapters would start for a new POV character. I generally don't write multiple POV characters, but if you do, any such change of POV demands a chapter break (IMO). I believe the two-page chapter I saw was just because of a POV change, a traveling character learned something new that warranted a change of their destination; it was necessary to the plot in some way.
    – Amadeus
    Dec 29, 2017 at 12:33

One can plan plot in details, or one can design characters' traits and see what story can't help but develop from that. You might find either approach or something in between serves you, but it sounds as if you've settled on something nearer the first end of the spectrum. One approach is to first write a synopsis of the whole story, in roughly the level of detail a future Wikipedia article about your book would; but even if you do, you might not find your initial "this is how much each chapter will cover" plans don't work out, either because they'd be the wrong length or because they wouldn't end on high notes.

It might be easier to let a synopsis guide you roughly as to the "parts" of a novel (which is what I did for one manuscript), and then see as you write which parts are several chapters and which stop in the middle of a chapter. You needn't display the "part" labels in the text itself; it'd only give away the twists. But you need to serve the needs of your story; for example, another manuscript based each chapter on one term at school, and therefore the storyline determined fairly neat chapter division.

  • 1
    This is the "snowflake method"
    – Hanilucas
    Dec 22, 2017 at 13:13
  • @Which part? I mentioned more than one approach. The plot vs character distinction is also sometimes referred in terms of architects & gardeners, or (if you dislike the latter sort of writer) plotters & pantsers.
    – J.G.
    Dec 22, 2017 at 14:02
  • I was talking more about the synopsis approach. Can you clarify the other approach? It looked like they were the same, especially because they are on the same paragraph
    – Hanilucas
    Dec 22, 2017 at 20:18
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    @Hanilucas I distinguished between chapter summaries, "part" summaries and a detailed but unstructured synopsis. The snowflake method is more about iteratively making the plan more and more detailed, by using each stage to guide the next: advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method
    – J.G.
    Dec 22, 2017 at 22:55

What I would do, would be to write down every basic event, and then on top write which event in which chapter. So it would be like this:

Chapter 1: -Event 1 -Event 2 -Event 3

Chapter 2: -Event 1 -Event 2


I found that it is hard to plan chapters when you have less than 1k words. You may know the end, the middle part and the start but nothing in between. Once I hit 10k words (or 10% of the book) it became a bit challenging to find some story parts and that's where chapters became necessary. But that's my own personal experience, I know that many writers have different systems.

  • Wait, do you mean that you subdivide chapters in your writings after part of the text is done?
    – FraEnrico
    Dec 22, 2017 at 10:25
  • Not exactly - mostly it's in progress.
    – Odellburi
    Dec 22, 2017 at 10:59

Not sure I have the handle on this either, but what I've been doing in my rough drafts is to insert (Chapter break) Formated "center" and with the () when I feel there needs to be one. I can go back later and decide to either keep it in or remove it. In a later draft I may give them numbers.

Having it stand out centered also helps me be able to use the search function to jump to chapters when reviewing and editing, etc.

So far along with what others have mentioned about passages of time and skipping mundane stuff, I sometimes come across areas I feel needs to have a break. A scene ended and the protagonist, or POV character is left with something to ponder over, or there's some tension left that can't be resolved yet. There may be something important that I feel needs to be left at the end of a chapter to add importance. I guess that may be considered a turning point in the plot as mentioned by another answer.

Another good time for a chapter break is when you're doing a POV shift, either past to present or into another character's mind. Also useful if your story includes sub plots. I like to have those in separate chapters when possible.

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