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Is there any standard (or at least common) hierarchical arrangement for major divisions of a fiction book? For instance, I occasionally see some large novels divided into "parts", and sometimes I see them divided into "books". Can you have one inside the other? Is there a standard order?

And what about a volume?

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  • The most common order I've seen is 'Volume>Book>Part>Section>Chapter>Point' but it depends on what you're writing - fiction, nonfiction, technical, and the like.
    – Mussri
    Jan 18, 2013 at 23:03
  • @Mussri: Waitwaitwait. Section is below Chapter. Section is a * * * break.
    – SF.
    Jan 19, 2013 at 13:05
  • I would say a section comes below a chapter as well, but I think a *** break is usually called a "scene" not a section. I would think a section is more for text books and academic papers, and wouldn't normally appear in fiction. Jan 19, 2013 at 13:20
  • Examples escape me but I'm quite sure a section talks about a general idea that is then broken into chapters for the specifics. I was talking about encyclopedia-sized books here, where the "Biology" section would have a chapter on botany, one on marine life, and another as an introduction to bio-life topography. Still, if you know from somewhere authoritative (or you have any examples), what contradicts this, please share your findings here and disregard my comment. It was only an 'observation', after all.
    – Mussri
    Jan 19, 2013 at 13:32
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    Understood, and that's a good example, thanks. I am asking specifically about fiction works, though, I think sections (whether above or below chapters) are more likely to be used in non-fiction work. Jan 19, 2013 at 15:44

4 Answers 4

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I don't think there is an official set of names, and worse, there are pieces that have conflicting meanings. A "Book" is used as the whole story, as a volume or as a part. A "Part" is either A book in the series or A subsection within book.

Let me try to put it in order but take into account this is by no means ultimate or a law.

  • Series/Franchise/World/Saga. There is this world/universe/multiverse where stories take place. It's self-contained and doesn't bind to any other books. It's not even limited to one author. Usually name is supplemented with the "Series/Saga/World of..."
  • Storyline/Series [see, series within series?]. Following adventures of one group of characters in a single world. It's often quite non-straightforward; see an example...; usually named "character's Storyline"
  • Part [of Series]/Book. A self-contained story either released alone or as a part of series. The primary unit, has its own title.
  • Volume - a physical subdivision of a Book, a piece contained within one binder (or one physical file.) It frequently coincides with the Part of the Book. Usually has a number, rarely a title.
  • Part [of a book]. It's a major subdivision often coinciding with volume, but not always. For example, Lord of the Rings is three volumes but six parts plus appendices. It's a major turn of events, resetting the mood and pace and often with its own climax. It may or may not have a title.
  • Chapter - I think we had discussions of what comprises a chapter here. I think it's easiest to understand but hardest to put in words.
  • Scene/Section - a piece delimited by * * * or the likes, usually with a continuity of time or location.
  • Paragraph

Note there is no agreement to naming especially within the Chapter/Volume/Part area: I've seen any of them named "Book" ("Sir Thaddeus" is physically one book, one volume but it's A Nobleman's Tale from the Years of 1811 and 1812 in Twelve Books of Verse, which are actually chapters. Six parts of Lord of the Rings are called "Books".) And it's very frequent to make Volumes and Parts coincide (and then often Parts are called Volumes) but the Part-Volume relation may be entirely uneven, a part split between volumes or vice versa.

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I am not sure about books versus parts but a volume is a bound segment of a work. You can remember that by the way printed encyclopedias are usually broken up into volumes. But I do not think that actually relates to structures like parts and books because a volume could split a part or a book or even a chapter it all just depends on how its printed and bound.

I think the most important thing is to just be consistent obviously within a work or really within an entire series if it is one. And do not do anything that is obviously wrong like putting a chapter above a book because this could be confusing to readers.

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What starts as a word that becomes a sentence that turns into a paragraph, that turns into becoming a chapter, that becomes multiple chapters + an ending, characters, compelling plotline and a world for those characters to live and interact in is a book. I would say a volume is a section in a series of books, and a part is a focussed point that you want your readers to engage and read within those books and stories. Say for example, the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin has seven books, but books three and five have a part one and a part two that focus on particular characters and their story arcs.

This is getting a little technical here, but when writing parts in a book, it's important to know which characters you want your readers to focus on, and have not too many storylines going on at once. Otherwise, the storyline and the character arcs become too confusing to follow.

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I always take it that "Part" usually means the order of a serialized story such that if you watch out of order, there are elements critical to the story that you did not yet learn, usually within the opening scenes of the story (think of a cliffhanger episode in a television show... while the second part usually opens up with a "Previously On" recap, that was for the sake of the fact that serial films and tv shows often had to deal with the fact that an audience may not be consistently able to watch the serial story).

In many classical literature, the story wasn't always told in a single bound copy. That was expensive. Many classic stories were actually first told in literary magazines one chapter at a time and then the story was bound into a single volume upon completion. Think like watching a season of a show at a rate of once a week only to go and buy the entire season on DVD or streaming and binging the whole thing. Many Charles Dickens stories were told in this fashion first. Robert Lewis Stevenson's "Treasure Island" was told in this fashion in a magazine for boys... which would explain the long part of the first chapter in which the narrator warns the reader that the story is not for the feint of heart... it was a disclaimer for the magazine warning the likely reader if they thought the story synopsis wasn't to their liking, they should not read it... because the original format had other stories they might like.

Generally here, the stories were told in chapters with each chapter ending on a cliffhanger which resolves in the next issue. Books that are published in a series might use "Part" to denote that the story is serialized over multiple books, when the typical series of books is episodic (In the 90s book Series, Animorphs, the books were largely episodic in the stories of the titular group. However, books 19, 20, and 21 were parts one, two, and three of a bigger story that was told in each book, and thus reading them out of order would mention plot details that were introduced in different books).

It could also be that the copy of your story binds two books that were originally intended to be separate books. In the comic book industry, comic books are typically sold individually but bound into trades (modern industry practices now tend to do this over a single storyline run) and denote this by showing the "Part" separation. This is often done after the book has aged a bit and likely reflects the idea that a store might have limited shelf space for a book series. If your book isn't the biggest seller, it might be best to settle for one book that has all three parts of the series bound in a single title rather than seperated and denote each book as a part. Other times, the book might actually be a collection of several books and use the internal note of "Book" to denote this. The Bible being the best example as the original texts featured in the Bible are not written together. Thus you have "The Book of Genesis" which is a distinct story (mostly of creation lore and early history with myth-like answers to the existence of things: How the earth was made, the fall of man, the first murder, the reason for languages) vs. Exodus (The Hebrew's flight from Egypt to the Holy Land).

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