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How to write your chapter outlines

You’ll need to write chapter outlines or chapter summaries if you’re pitching your book to a traditional publisher. Chapter outlines are necessary for a book proposal, and even more necessary if you’ve not written the full manuscript before you pitch this idea to an agent, editor or book publisher.

If you’re pitching a memoir before you’ve written the full manuscript, you’ll need to write sample chapters. But one of the key ingredients of book proposals that sell when the author hasn’t yet drafted the full manuscript is your chapter outlines. Chapter outlines are also really important if you’re entering a writing competition or applying for any kind of fellowship or mentorship for your manuscript. They show publishers, agents, readers – a full overview of the concept and help readers to grasp what you will be achieving when the manuscript is complete. But don’t be overwhelmed! Here you’ll learn all that goes into writing your chapter outlines.

In a book proposal, your chapter outlines are also called chapter summaries.

When to write your chapter outlines

Even if you’re not yet pitching your book to a publisher, I  recommend writing short chapter outlines before you start writing the first draft.

Why? It’s one of the best ways to nip any writer’s block in the bud and make sure you don’t go off-track with your first draft. When you know the key turning points of the narrative arc, and the structure of the story, it’s much easier to sit down and write each day. Just like having a focus sentence (a technique I teach inside the Art of Memoir), having chapter outlines gives you a clear end-point, container, and ‘goal’ for your writing. Writing your chapter outlines means the next steps in your manuscript are clearly defined. And you always have a place to ‘go’ when you sit down to write!

TIP: You can also use your chapter summaries when you’re reshuffling the action of the story after you’ve completed the first draft. Just cut and paste around on a big board, add lines, see where the major action rises and falls.

“But I don’t know the ending of the story, yet!” I hear you protesting. Or “…what if that ruins the creative process?”

Chapter outlines don’t need to be completely prescriptive, and you don’t need to feel overwhelmed about writing them either.

Read on for more reasons why you should write your chapter outlines and how to do it.

Why you need to write your chapter outlines:

  • The purpose of having chapter outlines in your proposal is to show your potential agent / publisher / editor that you’re capable of fulfilling the ‘promise’ of the story. i.e. you can envisage the arc of it further than the initial 5000 words (which is what you’ll also include in your book proposal).
  • Chapter outlines are also really useful to help you conquer writer’s block and get to the finish line of the first draft, much quicker than you would if you didn’t have a blueprint or plan for how you’re going to complete the manuscript. You won’t stick to them in detail, and that’s OK. By having a ‘map’ of your book before you start writing the first draft, you can work on each chapter and have a clear idea of the next direction from where each chapter will lead.
  • The purpose of the first draft, is to get everything down so you can finally ‘see’ the shape of the story. Having chapter outlines will help you finish your first draft quicker.

What to include in your chapter outlines:

Ask yourself the following questions if you’re stuck defining what could go into one chapter or the next.

  • How does the protagonist  change in each chapter?
  • What purpose does this chapter serve to move the story forward (ie. What is its key action)?
  • What (if any) new characters are introduced?
  • What new information comes to light?
  • Where does the main character ‘go’ if there is a physical journey?
  • What is the biggest turning point/revelation of the main character?
  • What big decisions are made?
  • What questions are answered in this chapter that were set up in the beginning of the story? TIP : If you’re getting bored with the story when you write your chapter outlines (!), think back to your memoir’s driving desire when you’re writing your summaries. Drive the narrative forward through tension (antagonism) and moral dilemmas.

This is where your memoir focus sentence matters

If you’re going off track in your chapter outlines, bring everything back to your memoir focus sentence : ie. what action in this chapter, advances the central theme / argument / premise of my story? You can have ‘quiet’ chapters where not a lot changes, but every chapter must somehow advance the character or the plot or action of the story.

TIP 1 : Each chapter outline only needs to be a couple of sentences to a paragraph. Don’t overcomplicate things, pare the story back to the bones in your chapter outlines.

TIP 2 : If you’re writing your chapter summaries / outlines for a book proposal (to go to an agent or publisher), include the working title of your memoir, your proposed book length, and estimated completion date at the top of your chapter outline document. You may also write longer chapter outlines – say, a paragraph or three per chapter. This will help, particularly, if you’re only including one sample chapter for the proposal. Why? Because the agent or editor will see clearly how the story will flow from start-to-finish. If you haven’t published a book before, and haven’t written the whole manuscript yet, go for longer chapter outlines.

essays written by chapter

Q1: What if I don’t know what will change in each chapter until I start writing…?

If, like me, your preferred style of attacking a book is more creative and less planning, chapter outlines might make you feel a bit ‘locked in’. But I can’t stress enough, how important they are to help you ‘see’ the book as a whole, and come to the finish of your first draft, quicker!

Don’t worry if they change, as you craft the story! This is why you should keep them relatively short – things will change. I had to write chapter outlines for my agent to secure my book deal (as it was on proposal only), and I was so glad that I did. Having an outline for the whole book gave me the confidence when i was feeling stuck and overwhelmed by the massive task of the book, to take a look back and see that actually, yes, I had planned it out, and there was enough material for a whole book in my outline.

  • It’s important to have your chapter outlines to know you have enough ‘beats’ to fill in 15 or 20 chapters, or a whole book.

Q2 What if I don’t even know the ending to the story, yet?

I wrote my chapter outlines for A Letter From Paris without even knowing the ending to the story. I hadn’t been to France, and the biggest turning points in my story hadn’t been revealed. But I knew the driving desire (ie. the purpose of the story), and I used this to plan my chapter summaries.

In order to successfully pitch the book to a publisher, I had to show that I had considered the manuscript in detail and how I would write it from start to finish.


This is the purpose of your chapter outlines: To show you have thought out your work of non-fiction from start to finish. To show that you have considered the narrative arc of your story from beginning, through the middle, through the major crisis points of the story, to a transformational end. There must be a major shift in your narrator (you) in terms of character growth, from the beginning to the end of the story. This is the most common problem seen in book outlines: there is no clear or dramatic change in the main character from beginning to end. Without change, there is no story!

Keep it simple.

If you don’t know the ending to the story, or you haven’t written the complete draft yet, you will need to dig deep. While three or four sentences (a paragraph or two even better) is better for a proposal, just get a sentence or two down about the main action of each chapter if you can. You’ll learn and see possibilities as you start to really map out your story.

In my early chapter outlines (which I’d sent to my agent with just a 10 000 word sample of the manuscript), I only had one or two sentences. Because I didn’t know the end of the story – but, I had to show that I could follow it wherever it would lead. One chapter was simply one sentence: Louisa goes to the library and finds her father’s manuscript material.

The chapter itself ended up being 7000 words (in the first draft). Because I didn’t know the extent of the manuscript material I was to discover, when I wrote the chapter outlines, I kept it to one sentence. This is all fine – things will change with your manuscript, but you need some kind of blueprint or map to make a good start!

It might help to end with a sewing analogy: when you’re first learning to make clothes, you follow a ‘pattern’ even though the material and the sizing will vary. The chapter outlines are like the pattern you need, to make a dress. A blueprint, if you will, to get starting in crafting your beautiful story.  Necessary borders and definitions exist for you to fill with oceans of creativity. Like a colouring in book, once you have the outlines, you can then freely go off with pens and let it flow, filling in the squares.

The secret to editing your work is simple: You need to become its reader instead of its writer Zadie Smith

YOU’LL ALSO LOVE: How to write your memoir book proposal Three types of memoir that sell Edit your manuscript like a Pro

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Excellent advice. I started my outline when I began to drift off track. A seat of the pants writer at the start, I now believe there is value in applying many tools and keeping an open, flexible approach in your a writing. Don’t be adverse to learning new things.

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Thank you for sharing your information! Before reading this I was really struggling with how to do an outline. I get it now’

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Can you read my chapter summaries?. The Manuscript is finished. I have difficulty summariwing antthing.

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Current options for coaching and publishing support including editorial feedback are all listed on this page: https://louisadeasey.com/work-with-me/

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Very nice discussion for writing a chapter outline. Simply written and informative. Thank you so much.

[…] How to write your chapter outlines […]

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Do you write the chapter outline in first person for memoir?

I answer this question in the post!

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1. Feature Characters

2. show point of view, 3. incorporate setting, 4. use chapter objectives, how to outline a novel chapter by chapter.

Writing a novel is a task that often requires planning before you start putting words on paper.

In particular, a ​ chapter-by-chapter outline ​ lets you jot down the main ideas for each installment of your book, from what characters appear in each chapter to how its major scenes advance the plot.

​ Outlining ​each chapter of your novel can lessen the stress of your project by giving you an idea of where your story might be headed.

Because a novel's plot is longer and more complex than a short story, it is populated with multiple characters who serve different roles, from the main character to the villain to minor characters who are integral to specific scenes.

Since a novel features subplots along with its main narrative, it can be easy to introduce characters, then forget to pick up their storyline.

You can use an ​ outline ​ to keep track of them all by creating a heading that notes which characters appear in each chapter.

​ Point of view ​ is another critical element for a novel outline.

The most common ​ point of view ​ choices for novelists are:

  • first-person, the use of the pronoun "I"
  • third-person, the use of "he," "she" and "they"

If your novel is told through the eyes of only one character, outlining this part should be easy, but many novels also use multiple characters' perspectives.

Examples: Kathryn Stockett's "The Help," William Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying"

If your novel has multiple narrators, be careful to note in your outline which one witnesses each chapter's events.

When screenwriters craft film scripts, each scene includes a heading that states where the action takes place.

Similarly, your novel outline can include a brief description of what ​ locations ​ appear in each chapter.

Determining a ​ setting ​ for each scene can help you figure out where the story's turning points might occur, as well as how the characters can interact with their environments.

For example

Setting plays a pivotal role in each chapter of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," as the opposing neighborhoods of East Egg and West Egg reveal class distinctions and conflicts among the characters.

Ultimately, each chapter is designed to move the action forward.

Throughout most novels, the main character works toward an ​ objective ​ and encounters numerous obstacles along the way.

In each chapter section of your outline, you can make notes about how the events of that chapter will advance the character's story.

The Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library's Community Novel Project also suggests outlining each chapter according to elements of the traditional fiction plot arc:

  • rising action

Both techniques can ensure that each ​ scene ​ serves a purpose in developing your character's journey.

<!--StartFragment-->I am a current senior studying at the University of Missouri - Columbia with a major in Journalism and a minor in Sociology. I have interests in photojournalism, documentary journalism and design fields. <!--EndFragment--><!--EndFragment-->

How to Write a Chapter-By-Chapter Outline

Outlining is a fun, easy way to turn book writing from agony to awesome.

Let’s go over some tips, then write a detailed outline together for our story about Scenya, the world of season-magic!

During the last stream, a subscriber requested that we create a detailed outline for a story we’ve written before.

You can watch the full video here to or scroll down for notes/highlights.

How to Make a Detailed Outline

  • Once you’ve written a basic outline for your story, you can then make a detailed one.
  • My favorite kind of detailed outline is one that divides the story into chapter-by-chapter summaries , since it provides the most detailed map of the book
  • As you outline each chapter, you’ll make new things up to fill in info gaps, some plot points will change, and characters may be born/die, and that’s fine, that’s your story growing

Aside from giving a short summary of each chapter, make sure that every chapter answers these two questions:

#1. Connection: how does this connect to the last chapter? #2. Compelling: what compels readers to read this chapter?

  • There shouldn’t be any “and then X happens, and then Y happens, and then Z happens,” since that feels more random.
  • Any time your reason is something like “the reader needs to know X or Y,” that should set off alarms. Don’t just convey info, have something HAPPEN where that info is necessary

For Example, with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone:

Chapter 1 Synopsis: Harry is dropped off as a baby at the Dursleys. Connection: (n/a) Compelling: The secret about the Dursleys, Harry being famous (NOT Dumbledore in his office talking about Dursleys)

Chapter 2 Synopsis: Harry makes the glass disappear at the zoo. Connection: We see the magic that was hinted at last chapter Compelling: Seeing Harry’s horrible life and accidental magic (NOT Harry at school accidentally using magic)

Chapter 3 Synopsis: Harry gets a mysterious letter in the mail. Connection: Because Harry’s life is miserable and he has no friends, he desperately wants to read the letter. Compelling: The mystery of the letters (NOT Harry learning about Hogwarts from a book/wizard)

We then created a chapter-by-chapter outline for a book we’ve worked on before: a story about Scenya, a world where four countries have four different types of seasonal-based magic.

Here’s an awesome map of the world, as drawn by Dragonflyghter. Glitzen is the winter kingdom where they have the power to freeze time, Decarne is the fall nation where they have the power to ripen/mature things, Incarna is the spring covereign where they have the power of rebirth, and Vitalis is the summer hive where they have the power to control insects.

Be sure to check out the back of the book summary and basic outline we’ve already created for this story before reading the chapter-by-chapter outline:

Here’s what we came up with:

Prologue Synopsis: Show the powers/relationships of the four nations Connection: (n/a) Compelling: It’s all coming to an end with the conflict of the melting glaciers/disease, bringing a new season Chapter 1 Synopsis: Victor (from spring) is a several-centuries-old member of the elite whose sister is sick/dying for the 1st time and he can’t help her. Their society is stagnant/academic, based on sibling bonds, since children are seen as “crops” harvested for their lifeforce. End with Victor telling her he’s going to Winter to freeze her in time so they can find a cute. Connection: See the disease/spring powers in action. Compelling: See the spring life-transfer power in action, when Victor sacrifices a “flower” child to try and save his sister, see how different/scary their culture is. Chapter 2 Synopsis: Celan (from winter) goes to snooty private school where she’s learning time-freezing magic. She hears rumors about melting glaciers/virus but no one talks about it. We see her fun relationship with her father, the chauffeur for the royal family, who picks her up in the royal limo. They hear a news story about the melting glaciers on the limo radio, but dad tells her not to worry. At home, Celan’s mother, a research scientist, gets into an argument with father about staying/leaving, since she wants to run away before disaster happens.End with mother telling Celan they’re going to run away and leave father behind. Connection: See the Winter kingdom that was talked about in the last chapter. Compelling:  The mystery of the disease and where it’s coming from. Chapter 3 Synopsis: Bree (from summer) was born into the worker caste to work the fields, but then the prophet-king came to power (first king in forever, was always a queen before) saying that people are not born into their role and can change. Brie, along with many other workers, became warriors, ready to take advantage of rising temperatures and defeat fall/spring, then winter Connection: See the army that Celan’s mother was worried about Compelling: See the summer society where the gender ratio is skewed 9:1 female to male. Chapter 4 Synopsis: Tarus (from fall) is an adult ripened from childbirth right to working age, working doing simple tasks in a factory. Connection: Summer hive is going to attack fall, see the people that they want to slaughter. Compelling: Seeing the tedious tasks that Tarus has to perform and how they’re justified as “games” where they get “prizes.” Chapter 5 Synopsis: Victor (spring) sets sail for the winter kingdom to try and get someone to freeze his sister in time before she dies Connection: He’s on a boat that is manned by brainless workers from Fall Compelling: Victor goes from boat to boat trying to find someone to take him, but sailors don’t want to go to winter because of the spreading disease, they warn him that’s where the sickness is coming from Chapter 6 Synopsis: Celan (winter) and her mother run away to the port to try and escape the kingdom, news of the attack of summer on fall is already happening. Mother tells Celan about the Rot bomb that she helped create with fall, a bomb that would release tons of rot magic in an attempt to destroy the virus. Connection: Victor is coming to winter, Celan/mother are leaving. Compelling: Celan betrays her mother by telling a teacher her mother’s plan before they leave. Chapter 7 Synopsis: Bree (summer) is brainwashed to hate the other kingdoms, and part of the army that the prophet-king sent to invade fall. (The other half went to spring.) Bree attacks the people there with her comrades, ends with her ordered to attack Tarus’s factory by herself since one warrior is plenty for the brainless workers Connection: Get to see the attack of summer on fall. Compelling: Bree slaughtering the citizens of fall, but she empathizes with them because they’re workers like she was, begins to have a change of heart. Chapter 8 Synopsis: Tarus (fall) working in a factory where he thinks they’re making nice toys but it’s actually the Rot bomb. Bree meets Tarus and realizes what she’s doing is wrong, because he asks her innocent questions that she can’t answer. Connection: See Brie attack the factory she was assigned to. Compelling: We see Brie’s killing through Tarus’s innocent POV, he thinks she’s putting the others to sleep, he says he doesn’t want to take a nap, that’s what pushes her over the edge. Chapter 9 Synopsis: Victor (spring): He arrives in the Winter kingdom port, asks around for someone to help but everyone is wary of outsiders right now due to the instability, ends with an explosion in the distance. Connection: Instability of war affecting the people’s reaction. Compelling: Mystery of the explosion. Chapter 10 Synopsis : Bree (summer) sees the Rot bomb that fall was making get launched and exploded in fall. The Rot itself kills many fall/summer people, and it makes the virus even worse (since the virus feeds on magic). Connection: See the source of the explosion. Compelling: Bree sees all of her powerful comrades falling to something they can’t even fight against. Chapter 11 Synopsis: Tarus (fall) leads Brie through an underground evacuation tunnel, which he was told to do in case of an emergency. They get to a door and it’s locked, but Tarus uses his decay magic on it to destroy the lock and keep going. Connection: See how Brie/Tarus survive the Rot blast. Compelling: Bree changes her mind, and now Tarus is her comrade, she calls him “drone,” a term of endearment that the summer nation uses. Chapter 12 Synopsis: Celan (winter) and her mother and everyone else around the Winter port gets hit by the empowered virus from the Rot bomb. Those who have used a lot of magic are most affected, and her mother dies from it, but Celan survives. Victor is arrested as a scapegoat, accused of being a terrorist unleashing an attack, and Celan thinks he killed her mother. Celan’s teacher finds her and helps her away. Connection: See more repercussions of the Rot bomb. Compelling: Victor and Celan meet up and Celan misunderstands who Victor is. Chapter 13 Synopsis: Bree (summer) together with Tarus reach the fall port and start to travel to spring to confront the prophet-king and tell him what happened with the Rot bomb. They pass the time with Bree seeing what other kid of magic Tarus can do when they turn it into a game. Connection: Repercussions of the bomb. Compelling: We want to know what will happen with their meeting, Bree wonders what she will tell the prophet-king now that she’s had a change of heart. Chapter 14 Synopsis: Victor (winter) is in jail, and Celan hates him since she thinks he killed her mother. He doesn’t care for her much either since to him, children are just crops to harvest for life. Connection: Theme of “change of heart.” Compelling: Interaction between Victor/Celan and their misunderstanding of each other. Chapter 15 Synopsis: Celan (winter): She goes home, father tells her that mother told him about the Rot bomb but he didn’t believe her, now Celan knows that Victor is innocent, her father drives her to the jail to help him out. Connection: Goin’ back to jail! Compelling: Celan learns the truth, change of heart for her father. Chapter 16 Synopsis: Victor and Celan work together to him break out, Celan freezes the guards but only for a few seconds, enough to steal their keys, let Victor escape, and then have him steal the guards’ lifeforce before the unfreeze. Celan’s dad leads Victor/Celan to a boat bound for Spring with Celan pretending to be Victor’s sister, but they have to leave the dad behind. Connection: The final part of the escape. Compelling: First time magics have been used together, and the father’s sacrifice. Chapter 17 Synopsis: Tarus (fall) experiences his first time outside of the fall nation, now together with Brie in Spring, he has fun commenting on everything he sees, he doesn’t understand that it’s all rubble, death, and destruction, waged by the summer hive. Connection: We see the spring nation where Celan/Victor are headed too. Compelling: We see everything from Tarus’s innocent POV. Chapter 18 Synopsis: Victor (spring) arrives in spring with Celan to see it decimated. He takes Celan with him to go back to his sister and try to freeze her in time, but she’s gone. They speak with the university leader, and find out she was stolen away for research and is being autopsied and is already dead. Now we find out the origin of the disease, that it was caused by the winter kingdom slowing down the planet with their time-freezing-powers and causing it to warm. Connection: Theme of “learning new things.” Compelling: Finally discover the source of climate change. Chapter 19 Synopsis: Bree (summer) meets the prophet-king, but he is weakened by the disease and the army is almost all dead. Brie tries to get him to stop the invasions, but the prophet-king calls her a traitor and stabs Tarus. Connection: See the continuation of the decimation from the previous chapter. Compelling: Interaction between Brie/king and her telling him her change of heart. Chapter 20 Synopsis: Tarus (fall) is stabbed and dying, but Bree fights against the prophet-king, killing him but taking a mortal wound in the process herself. Connection: See the next part of the battle. Compelling: Oh no, Bree and Tarus are dying! Chapter 21 Synopsis: Victor (spring) sees what happened with the prophet king/Bree, and Bree begs Victor to put what remains of her life force into Tarus, saving him, and then she dies. Connection: End of the battle. Compelling: Bree’s sacrifice not for her nation but for her friend. Chapter 22 Synopsis: Together, Celan (winter) freezes time on the disease, giving Victor (spring) the ability to put life into the viruses, and then Tarus (fall) decays them away. Theme: “In order to combat a giant, insurmountable enemy, we need to work together.” Connection: The war is over but the battle against the disease is still there. Compelling: We have all the characters working together.

It’s not a perfect outline, and there’s a few places where it needs to be smoothed out, but it’s an important next step. Our story/characters grew, and with a bit more work, it’ll be ready to start being written.

Be sure to check out the video for more!

If you want to join us and help write a story by trolling in chat, or share your own writing for feedback, then we’d love to have you join us on Twitch .

And you missed the stream, you can still watch them on the  YouTube channel  or  watch the full stream reruns .

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How to Write a Book Chapter in 7 Simple Steps for Your Nonfiction Book

POSTED ON Aug 22, 2019

Petros Eshetu

Written by Petros Eshetu

Are you ready to learn how to write a book chapter? This is the first step towards many exciting milestones in your writing journey, so it’s time to get started!

You’ve committed to write a nonfiction book , and you’re well on your way to begin your author journey. 

So where do you start? By learning how to write a book chapter. 

Sounds simple, right? But it can be overwhelming and difficult to gain momentum, especially when we doubt ourselves and start to feel like writing a book is such a mammoth project to undertake. 

As writers, we often tend to overthink the process, causing a flood of questions that occupy our attention instead of actually writing. 

You might be asking yourself…

  • How do I even do this?
  • Where do I begin and when do I finish? 
  • How long should my chapters be?
  • How many chapters should I have?

These are just some of the questions that might be preventing you from actually getting started writing your book's first chapter. In this article, you'll learn the exact steps on how to write a book chapter, and more.

Here’s how to write a book chapter:  #1 – Create a chapter outline #2 – Build out the chapter’s structure #3 – Write an eye-catching chapter title or headline #4 – Hook readers with your chapter intro #5 – Expand your story with main points #6 – Provide a recap that summarizes the chapter #7 – Add a Call-to-Action & transition to your next chapter

But before we get started, let's make sure you have the required foundation to get started on writing a chapter.

How do you start writing a chapter?

In order to start writing a chapter, all you need to do is start writing. Remember, when you begin your draft simply focus on getting the words on the page. You can edit it later. Looking at the blinking cursor can be one of the most intimidating parts of the writing process, so just start.

Bonus: When you start writing your first chapter, it doesn't need to be chapter one. If you have a great idea for the middle of the book, write it! You may inspire yourself for chapter one.

How long does it take to write a book chapter?

The speed you write depends on many factors such as:

  • Your typing speed
  • If you choose to edit as you draft
  • Whether or not you know the direction you plan to take the story

Don't allow yourself to get hung up on your writing speed, instead, focus on your writing quality.

How many pages should be in a chapter?

The page count in each chapter depends on what is best for your story. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, how you end your chapter greatly influences if a reader turns the page.

It would likely be better for your reader, and your story, to end a chapter a bit early on a cliffhanger, rather than drag a chapter out.

As you write, ask yourself this question: What type of chapter ending would keep me turning pages? Be sure to end your chapter at this point.

Now, it's important to note that before you can even begin, you first need to have your book's general outline in place. It's okay if you have a working outline that's not finalized, but you need to have a rough idea of what chapters you need to include. If you're asking, “ What is an outline ?” read more at the link.

Your book's outline is your roadmap, and it's what you will use to get to your final destination with the chapters you write. After all, how do you know which direction you’re heading if you don’t have a path?

Think of your book like a TV show, and instead of episodes, you have chapters. Most hit shows develop a general theme for the season, so each episode progressively builds up to a grand finale. 

The same goes for writing books. You brainstorm ideas, figure out a theme for your book, and structure it by chapters, so it all fits together nicely.

Your book is the general theme, and each chapter should build up to the big picture. 

What is a chapter?

A chapter is defined as section, or division, of a book, and it is usually separated with a chapter number or chapter title. Chapters break the overall book topic into sections. Each chapter in a book is related to the overall book theme, and chapters are found in many book variations and genres, such as nonfiction, fiction, academia, law, and more. The concept of a book chapter is to allow the author to break up the work, and for the reader to digest the material in increments, or chunks that are both understandable and memorable.

After all, most readers aren’t going to go through 30,000 or more words in one sitting. They need mental breaks. That’s what your chapters provide.

Also, chapters allow you to have some kind of structure in your writing compared to just rambling all of your ideas in one go like journal writing. A journal may make sense to you in your mind, but for the average person who’s reading it, they might not get the whole picture because they don’t have the same perspective as you.

Before you can get started with how to write a chapter, you need to be clear on what the purpose of a chapter is, and how it helps your book's organization.

Related: Parts of a Book

How long should my chapter be?

The short answer is, it really depends on your topic, and your writing style. There aren’t any set rules or guidelines. That’s the beautiful thing of self publishing – you as the author gets to dictate the length of your book. 

The length of your chapters will vary depending on the genre. So, if you really want some guidance, then just compare the typical length of other books within the same niche. 

How many words are in a nonfiction book chapter?

The average number of words in a nonfiction book is around 50,000-70,000 words, and the average number of chapters in a nonfiction book are about 10-20. With this logic, the number of words in a nonfiction book chapter is about 3,500 words to 5,000 words. But, the number of words in each chapter can vary greatly, depending on the nonfiction book's topic, subject matter, and the author's writing style.

Some topics will require more details, and some will require less. There isn't a set number of chapters to include, either, so make your chapters detailed, concise, and see where your word count falls and make adjustments in your editing process as needed.

As you learn how to write a book chapter, try not to worry so much about how many words to include in each chapter of your book. Instead of focusing on your word count, focus on the quality of your writing, and that you are including all the necessary information to get your point across.

Hands Typing On Laptop Keyboard With Text Overlay: How To Write A Book Chapter

How many chapters should I write? 

Again, this is up to you.  You can write as many or as few chapters as you want. Your book is your baby, and you make the final decision.

Don't decide on number of chapters just for the sake of it. Make sure you organize your chapters with sound reasoning, as opposed to just setting a random number.

This will ensure that your chapters make logical sense, and are in the correct order. With structured, organized chapters, your reader will be able to follow the information in your book seamlessly.

Now that you understand what a chapter is, and how many words and chapters to have in your book, it's time for writing !

#1 – Create an outline for the chapter 

The best way to brainstorm ideas and create an outline for your chapter is through mindmapping. 

A mindmap, if you aren’t already familiar with it, is where you brainstorm and unload all your ideas onto paper (or type it).

Once you’re done, you can look over and see if there’s a common theme beginning to take shape. At this point, you can start linking them together. You can structure your ideas to help with your analysis and see it visually.

As you learn how to write a book chapter, you'll get a better feel for how many sections make sense for your book's topic.

Here’s how to create an outline for your chapter:  #1 – Brainstorm all of the ideas and topics that this chapter should cover #2 – Write your ideas down on a mindmap  #3 – Review your ideas and link similar ideas together #4 – Identify a common theme for your chapter #5 – Sort the ideas into a logical order of how you should present them in your chapter

Here’s an example of my mind map: 

How To Write A Book Chapter: Chapter Mind Map

After my mind map, I was able to create a structured outline:

How To Write A Book Chapter: Structured Outline

Here are more resources for mindmapping: #1 – Mindmapping tool #2 – Learn how to book map #3 – Create an outline for a book

#2 – Build the chapter structure

Now that you understand the fundamentals, let’s get into the meat and potatoes of what makes up an effective chapter structure.

You'll want to be sure to include each element of your chapter structure for every subsequent chapter that you write.

It might be helpful to create a standard format, whether you write with pen and paper, or using book software on your computer. This will help you stay on track and write your chapters in an organized, structured form.

Here are the elements of a chapter structure:  #1 – A title or headline #2 – An introduction that hooks #3 – Body paragraphs that provide further details #4 – A recap, or summary, of the chapter #5 – A transition to the next chapter

While you can add more or less to each of your chapters depending on your genre, writing style, and needs, it’s important that all of your chapter contents contain similar points or pieces of information related to your overall theme.

All of the information should also be what your reader actually needs to know to understand the overall picture. 

If any of the contents don’t fit into your chapter’s theme, take it out. If there is extra information that isn’t necessary for the reader to know, or causes the reader to go off on a tangent, take it out. 

Only add what’s absolutely necessary, and take out anything extra. Chances are, the information either doesn’t add to the value of your work, or it might belong in a different chapter.

#3 – Write an eye-catching chapter title or headline

As you learn how to write a book chapter, you’ll realize just how important writing eye-catching chapter headlines, or titles, are. 

You can have the most amazing content in the world that has the power to change people’s lives forever. But if you don't learn how to write a book chapter headline that captures their attention, then they’ll never bother reading your book. 

This is especially important when you have someone on the fence, deciding whether or not to buy your book. They’re skimming through your table of contents or flipping through the pages to see if anything sticks out.

You want a chapter headline that triggers curiosity, and makes your reader want to learn more.

Even though this is listed as the first element of a chapter’s structure, many authors find that it’s easier to create the headline AFTER the chapter has been written. 

Tip: Write your headline once your chapter is already written. 

This is because as you write, your chapter and concept might change slightly, so you don’t want to waste time tinkering with the headline every time you update your concept.

Here are three types of headlines you can write:  #1 – Use the “How to…” approach #2 – Use a phrase or belief statement #3 – Present it as a question

#1 – Write the headline as a “How to…”

The “How to” format is a common strategy when writing a book chapter title because it works. A good “how to” headline is enticing, concise, and provokes action in the reader. 

To create a “How to” headline for your book’s chapter, make a list of the benefits, barriers, and beliefs that your chapter covers and then just plug it into the “How to…” template. Play around with it and see which headline combination makes the most sense.

If you’re struggling with this, think of the problem your chapter solves. Then craft that problem into a “How to” statement.

Here’s an example: “How to (add benefit) without having to (add barrier) even if (add belief).”  #1 – Add benefit – What’s the benefit of this chapter? What insight will your readers gain? #2 – Add barrier – What barriers or obstacles are your readers facing? What is their problem? What do your readers currently believe right now? #3 – Add belief – What belief(s) or inner thoughts are your readers telling themselves about your topic? 

How-to headline examples on book writing:

  • How to self-publish your book without having to commit 8 hours a day, even if you don't think you’re a good writer. 
  • How to stay motivated when writing your book without having to sacrifice hours away from family and business, even if you don't feel you have enough time.
  • How to build your confidence when writing your book without having to do a ton of research, even if you don't feel like you’re an expert

#2 –  Use a phrase or belief statement as your headline

You can simply use a phrase or belief that your readers are thinking about. If you think about it as the problem you are trying to solve for your reader, your headline or title would simply be the problem statement. 

Here are examples of beliefs for people who want to write a book:

  • “I'm not good enough to write.”
  • “I’m not a writer.’’
  • “I'm not special; why would anyone want to read my book?”

#3 – Present the headline as a question 

This is similar to the problem statement, but you are rephrasing it as a question that your readers might ask. 

Think about what your chapter covers, and ask yourself, “What question is this chapter going to answer for my readers?”

Then, use that question to can create a compelling book chapter or headline.

Here are some examples of questions a reader might ask:

  • How long does it take to write a book?
  • Can I make a living writing books?
  • Do I need an editor for my book?

If you’re still stuck thinking of an enticing chapter title or headline, it may be that you need more time to flesh out your content. 

Or, maybe you just need to spend some time writing, and come back to the headline when you are feeling more creative. 

You can also use title generators like Portent (which is my favorite) and tweakyourbiz . It can inspire you to come up with something unique.

What's great is you can use these headline ideas for not just chapters, but also webinars, videos, blog posts, guest posts, etc. as you expand your book business. 

#4 – Hook readers with your chapter intro 

Alright! So, you’ve captured the reader’s attention and now they’re curious to find out more. This is where you want to avoid any first chapter blunders and have an engaging intro that keeps people hooked, and attracted to your content. 

To explain the power of a hook in your chapter, let’s use an example from the TV show Law and Order . In every episode, they show the murder scene in the first few seconds; this is the opening hook! 

This effective technique naturally hooks viewers, myself included, making us want to know more.

We are left with the lingering question through the screenwriter’s hook (“How did they die?”) and then the rest of the episode is focused on piecing together who committed the murder. 

Unless you’re writing a horror book, I wouldn't expect your chapter introduction to be that dramatic, but there are similar ways that you can create an engaging opener. You can learn how to write an intro with a few simple steps, then apply the same strategies to all of your chapters.

Here’s how to hook your reader at the start of your book’s chapter: #1 – Share a personal story #2 – Show a conversation or dialogue #3 – Add powerful quotes #4 – Add shocking statistics  

What else can you think of to grab your reader's attention? Get creative!

In my experience, the best chapter introduction that get the most reader engagement is when the author shares a personal story. This is for two reasons.

Reason #1 – It builds a connection

Before spitting out facts and solutions, share your own personal story about overcoming the challenge you hope to help others through when they read your book and/or other products or services you offer. 

Stories are what connect you to your readers. 

Describe how you felt before, during, and after your personal challenge. For example, if you’re helping people lose weight, how did you feel when you were overweight? 

What did you see, hear, and feel? Relive and visualize this because most likely that’s where your readers are right now in their life. 

Even though you have overcome these struggles, you need to communicate at the same level as your readers and not from where you’re at right now.

Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and open up. 

I attended a screenwriting class recently. What I learned was that the most successful Hollywood movies are those with characters that have the most flaws.

It’s your flaws that will connect you to your readers emotionally. People are not looking for solutions or anecdotes as much as they are seeking for connection. 

“Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people” – William Butler Yeats

Reason #2 – It adds credibility

Your story helps build credibility, so people think, “ Wow! This author has been there, and done that, so they must know what they are talking about. I should read what they have to say. ”

When people are reading your book (and chapter) they may be asking:

  • ‘Why should I listen to you?”
  • “Who are you?” 
  • “How can you help me with _____?”
  • “How do you know how it feels to____?”

No one will listen to you unless they first know that they are understood. 

“People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.” John Maxwell

Share your story of being in the trenches and having gone through the challenges that your readers are currently facing. Create a bridge between you and your readers. 

Once your readers know that you understand them, they will begin to trust you and will be more open to hearing your advice.

Alternatively, you could also tell a story of a client you’ve helped or share their testimonials. 

You could also paint a picture of how life will be when they finish reading your book or implementing your methods, products or services, or even how life will be if they don't.

#5 – Expand your story with main points

Okay, so you have a great opening and people are hooked. Your readers can’t put the book down.

But now it’s time to dive into the details. Expand your opening and begin to explain your points.

This is where you are offering your reader the gold. How will you solve their problem? What does the reader need to know? Keep the momentum going and make sure each point is cohesively building up.

You can have as many points as you want. I personally like sharing three points within chapter topics just because there is so much to write about for each point.

For example, in my book, The Introverted Immigrant's Journey , I share 3 steps (or points) to overcoming fear, worry, and anxiety.

  • Step 1: Awareness   
  • Step 2: Identifying self-sabotaging thoughts
  • Step 3: Take action (despite the fear)

For each point, you can simply apply the same strategy just as you would starting a chapter. Add a story, quote, stat, or some other kind of evidence. 

Then expand on your opener.

Remember when you had to write a five paragraph essay in school? Think about this in terms of your five paragraph essay. These are your body paragraphs in your chapter!

This step is where a lot of writers can get sidetracked. That's why it's important to create your chapter outline in step 1, then stick to it as much as possible so that your writing is focused and concise and you hit your writing goals .

#6 – Write a summary of the book chapter

Celebrate! You’re almost to the finish line.

Now, all you’ve got to do is summarize what you’ve just said. You’ve given your reader a ton of information, so you have to bring it back around and close the loop.

Writing a summary of your book's chapter is basically recapping the information you shared in the section.

Since people best remember what they read last, this is your chance to be truly memorable.

What’s the last thing you want people to know? The key takeaway. Keep this short and to the point.

Here's how to write a summary of a book chapter: #1 – Skim the chapter and take notes of any major points or key takeaways #2 – Jot down each point or key takeaway #3 – Summarize each point in your own words  #4 – Whittle it down to 1 or 2 sentences for each point. #5 – Combine all your summarized points into one paragraph. #6 – Add in transition words such as “first,” “next” or “then” for each new point.

For example, in my book, I summarized my chapter points by creating 1-2 sentences on each point. Then, I combined each of those sentences together in order. 

For my first chapter point, which was on creating awareness, I wrote this summary:

“It’s important to remember that awareness is the first step to overcoming fear. How can you fix something without knowing its broken in the first place? Begin writing daily in a journal. Track how you feel throughout the day without any judgment.”

#7 – Add a Call-to-Action & transition to the next chapter

A call-to-action (CTA) is when you ask the reader to take action by implementing what they have learned and applying their new knowledge in some way. 

In short: Ask the reader to do something. 

What do you want the reader to do now? If you want them to think, act, or do something, tell them so at the end of your chapter.

It could be as simple as leaving a few questions for the readers to think about.

Here are some ways to add a call-to-action for your reader: #1 – Add reflection questions: “So, what’s one AHA! moment you got from reading this chapter?” #2 – Add action steps: “What is one small action you can take today after reading this chapter?”  #3 – Sign-up to my email list: “Do you still struggle with this (chapter problem)? Sign up to my email list, where I share more tips and strategies.” #4 – Get in touch: “If this (chapter problem) is a continuous challenge you are facing, feel free to reach out” (add email or any contact info) #5 – Buy: “If you’re interested in learning more about (chapter topic), consider buying these other books that focus on X.”

Once you’ve added your call to action, you can add a short transition to prepare your reader for your next chapter. 

Transitioning your reader to the next chapter gets them excited to keep reading, and it fully closes the loop on the information they just read. 

You can easily add some transition words and craft a 1-2 sentence that briefly covers what the next chapter will be about. 

Then, you can wrap up the entire chapter, and start the chapter writing process all over again!

Before you know it, your entire book will be written, and you’ll be preparing your finished manuscript for self-publishing .

Now that you have all the essentials on how to write a book chapter, it’s time to implement them!

Start sharing your stories and making the impact you’ve always wanted to make in the world through the power of your book. 

What other chapter techniques or strategies work for you?

essays written by chapter

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Three Steps to Write Chapter Outlines That Work

essays written by chapter

It’s no secret that writing a book can be a daunting endeavor. Even the shortest novels are still a lot of words, and you need to figure out how your story will fill those pages, how it will be broken up into chapters, and how to  make it worth reading!

But the payoff is that you get to write a book, and that’s pretty dang cool.

In this article, we’re going to chat about chapters—a fairly important part of your novel—and, more specifically, how to outline them. 

Outlining chapters is like outlining a book … but different. If you’re outlining chapters, odds are you already have your larger plot, your characters , your world , and your theme outlined. 

But being able to outline your chapters effectively can be a real game changer. It can be the catalyst that takes your story from just an idea to the perfect collection of plot, characters, theme, and more.

But enough with all the exciting promises. Let’s learn how to write chapter outlines.

When and Why to Outline Your Chapters

It’s always helpful to know the when and why before the how. It helps give you the bigger picture in full Technicolor. 

There are two scenarios  for writing chapter outlines, and the one you use largely depends on what type of writer you are.

If you’re more of a plotter (meaning you like to plan out your book before the first draft), you’re going to want to outline your chapters beforehand.

For those who are more of the pantser variety (meaning you like to see where your writing takes you), chapter outlines can come in handy after you’ve already written the chapter .

That might seem almost pointless, but let me explain with our first why: having a map of your book and its individual chapters ensures you’re hitting all the right story beats, weaving together your subplots, and penning cohesive beginnings, middles, and ends for each chapter.

Even hardcore plotters might want to revise their outlines after they’ve written a chapter so they can make sure they’re on the right track at a glance.

For authors going the traditional publishing route, chapter outlines can help you pitch your story to an agent , editor , or publisher if you’re already an established author. They can also help you write a synopsis for pitching if you don’t have those connections yet.

And even though this is more for my plotter kin out there, a thorough chapter outline is one of the best ways to get past an obstacle or block without hampering your creativity.

essays written by chapter

How to Outline a Chapter

Okay, let’s look at the how. Chapters are like mini stories that come together to make up your bigger plot.

At the same time, there are some things unique to chapters you should think of when writing an outline.

To create our chapter outline, I’m going to be drawing on a few ideas from the well-known Snowflake Method, though without getting as intense. If you want to know more about that outlining process, check out our article here .

Step One: The One-Sentence Summary

First up, we’re writing a one-sentence summary of the chapter. Not two or three sentences. One.

This deceptively difficult task really makes you think about the purpose of the chapter. What is it you want to accomplish, and how does this chapter contribute to the larger story?

Step Two: Expand Your Summary to Include the Main Events

In this step, you’ll write a sentence or two (I know, I’m being too kind here) to summarize each of the main events in your chapter.

These main events must include the beginning, middle, and end , but those are by no means your only options. Especially with the middle, there might be multiple events to include in your summary.

Outlining these main events does a couple things for us:

  • Ensures there’s cohesion and momentum in your chapters. These events should make sense together and have a natural forward pace.
  • Highlight any over-saturated chapters. If you have too many events in one chapter, it can either overwhelm or lose the interest of your reader. Summarizing them like this is an easy way to point that out.

Step Three: Condense Each Chapter to a Paragraph

Once you’ve summarized your main events, we’re going to expand our outline even more.

This time, we’re going to write a paragraph or multi-paragraph summary for each chapter. You can do this in point form, too. The idea is that we’re now getting to the point where you can start adding the finer details.

So go wild and include as much as you’d like. If you need some prompting (or guidance on what should be in there), below are some questions your paragraph-sized outlines should answer:

  • Are any new characters introduced? What is their purpose?
  • Does the setting change? How did the characters move from one place to another?
  • How has the protagonist or another character changed throughout the chapter?
  • Has any important information come to light? What impact does this information have?
  • Was there a revelation made in this chapter?
  • Were any questions set up in this chapter to be answered later?
  • Were any questions answered that were set up previously?
  • Are any subplots introduced or resolved?
  • What obstacles or other things have you put in the character’s way to make things more difficult?

essays written by chapter

If you find yourself struggling to figure out what should be in your chapters, I recommend bookmarking our article about story structures . Not only do we cover a handful of different structures, but we review the most significant beats and scenes in a story to help get your mind going.

Use the Plot Grid To Keep Things Organized

If you really want to take your outlining to the next level, let me introduce you to the Plot Grid . Now, this powerful tool is available to Dabble users, but even non-Dabblers can try all our premium features for fourteen days (without even putting a credit card in) by clicking here .

If you don’t like free stuff—no shade, really—you can do this all manually with a grid or something similar. 

Using the Plot Grid, you can set up chapter summaries and include broad categories like subplots, setting changes , questions that were answered or will be answered, and basically any of the points we’ve mentioned along the way. 

I know it might sound like organization is boring (unless you’re someone who likes color-coding things, which I can appreciate). But we’re not doing all this organizing and outlining just for fun.

Using the Plot Grid to keep all these summaries organized gives you that high-level overview of your story while letting you dive into all those details with just a single click.

But, if you’re up for the challenge, we can take it even one step further.

Optional Step Four: The Scene List

For the extreme plotters out there, this idea is taken right from the outlining depths of the Snowflake Method and integrated with the power of the Plot Grid.

A scene list is exactly what it sounds like: a list of scenes. Going this deep means you’re outlining each and every scene in your book, not just the chapters.

With a Book Plot Grid, we can attach notes to each scene. If you use this type of Plot Grid to build a scene list, it can look something like this:

essays written by chapter

You’ll notice a couple things here. Each scene has its own place in the leftmost column (thus why we call it a scene list). From there, we have a spot for a scene summary which you can fill out as much as you’d like using the information we’ve covered in this article.

Next to that is a list of characters in the scene. If you’re using the Plot Grid, you can open a Note Card to keep track of any details about their character arcs for easy reference.

Then we have the POV or the perspective the scene is told from. One of the great things you can do with the Plot Grid is attach labels to cards. In this case, I’ve tagged each scene with a label that color-codes which perspective I’m using in that scene. More than anything, this helps ensure I’m not using secondary characters too often or main characters when it isn’t as effective.

Finally, we have a card telling us where the scene takes place. Use this card to include any notes about how your setting influences the scene and the characters in it.

You’re also free to include other columns here if they help. Things like one-sentence summaries, which subplots are attached to those scenes, and more. The nice thing about a Book Plot Grid is that anything you put in a scene’s row will automatically show up in the Right Sidebar when you go to write (except when Focus Mode is on, of course).

That puts all your notes right where you need them, exactly when you need them.

Just so you don’t have to scroll back up, here’s the link to try out the Plot Grid and all Dabble’s premium features for free. Like free free. No credit card, no surprise charge when the trial is up.

Now go kick some outlining butt.

Doug Landsborough can’t get enough of writing. Whether freelancing as an editor, blog writer, or ghostwriter, Doug is a big fan of the power of words. In his spare time, he writes about monsters, angels, and demons under the name D. William Landsborough. When not obsessing about sympathetic villains and wondrous magic, Doug enjoys board games, horror movies, and spending time with his wife, Sarah.


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How to Structure a Book Chapter So Readers Love the Pace of Your Novel

Zara Altair

Zara Altair

How to structure a novel chapter

Chapters are a practical way to break up a novel and create an effective overall story structure . You want your reader to stay with your story for 200 or more pages. Chapters give them a way to take a natural break from reading and come back refreshed and ready for more.

In the classic linear structure, the beginning of the chapter is balanced out by the end. The chapter alludes to the overall progression of the story and ties in the most relevant pieces of information. This is largely what keeps the reader’s interest during the slower parts of the book, and aids in building anticipation for new plot points or chapters.

Chapter breaks help control the pace of your story, and entice readers to continue.

The definition of a chapter

What Is the Function of a Chapter?

What should be included in a chapter, what is chapter structure, how many chapters, words, and scenes should be in a novel, the chapter’s big job: pacing.

Each chapter builds a sequence in the framework of your story. You want your chapter to hit the right notes for its place in the story. Your chapter may be the focus of a major plot point, or it may transition the reader from one plot point toward the next.

Knowing where the chapter fits will help you keep the focus on moving the story forward. Using a chapter for major plot points increases tension, expands character development, and raises stakes as the story progresses.

Each major plot point in your novel is essential for building a story that avoids episodic repetition. The six key plot points are:

  • Inciting incident
  • First plot point
  • Pinch point

Your chapter will mirror this progression on a smaller scale, containing its own version of each point to keep your reader moving forward.

As you write your chapter, create elements that point the story toward the next plot element.

A woman typing a chapter

There’s no secret formula for how to write a good chapter. What’s important is that you understand what makes a good chapter, and work towards that goal.

Every chapter gives your reader a sense of your story—the characters, setting, tone, and action—to guide them through the challenges, wins, and failures of your protagonist.

These guidelines will help you achieve chapters that work within your story framework so readers relate to your story.

There Are No Rules for Novel Chapters

Chapters are artificial breaks in a story created by the author. There are no hard and fast rules on how to create chapters, how many in a novel, or how long each chapter needs to be.

This article offers guidelines for creating natural breaks in your story, but in the end, how you use chapters is up to you because the writing process is individual for everyone.

Literary fiction writers may be creative in determining and structuring chapters. Many authors may find reader expectations useful for determining chapter length and the number of chapters.

That said, let’s look at some chapter conventions and how you may choose to address them in your novel.

There are no rules for writing a chapter

Proactive and Reactive Scenes

One positive design pattern for structuring sequences in a story, whether scene-by-scene or chapter-by-chapter, is alternating proactive and reactive scenes.

Randy Ingermanson of The Snowflake Method considers these alternating scenes the building blocks of a good story.

In his words:

A Proactive Scene begins with a Goal, continues through most of the scene with Conflict, and concludes with a Setback. A Reactive Scene begins with a Reaction, continues through most of the scene with a Dilemma, and concludes with a Decision.

The way you write the scenes provides an anti-formulaic feel to the story.

A major benefit to using this approach to scene and chapter writing is that it automatically controls the story pacing. Chapter sequencing helps you keep your story flowing and keeps your reader reading.

Proactive versus Reactive Scenes

1. Openings

The beginning of the chapter is the setup for what happens next. Get your reader into the story right away. The character has a goal. The chapter (scene) goal is something your character wants to accomplish now to reach the main story goal.

The main plot objective is hinted at. The character’s chapter dilemma adds to the tension as you reveal the consequences of their actions.

Starting the chapter in the middle of action, in medias res , is one of the best ways to bring your reader back into the story. After their break from the preceding chapter, you want them to jump right into what happens next.

2. Settings

Let your reader know how much time has elapsed since the last chapter. A simple phrase is enough. Use phrases like that afternoon , the next morning , two days later , and then jump into the story.

Ground your readers in the setting. Make sure it’s clear where your characters are. Are they in Mike’s flat? On the street? In the woods? By the shore? Add setting details to bring the setting to life.

A solid way to do this is through the chapter character’s five senses. He sees Mike’s dirty dishes. She jumps off the curb to avoid a careening drunk. He’s surrounded by the scent of pines and decaying leaves. The crashing waves obscured Joan’s cries for help.

You get the picture. Make sure the setting becomes real for your reader.

A few examples of chapter settings

3. Conflict and Obstruction

Whatever your chapter character’s goal, you create something that obstructs their progress. The potential outcome of the conflict creates tension. Tension keeps readers turning pages.

Assign the typical obstacles to success to keep the tension level high. Early in the chapter action, decide what needs to happen as a result of the conflict. How will the character respond? Will the hero succeed or fail? What are the consequences of success or failure? What emotional reaction will your character have?

The chapter ending is the most important part of a chapter because it (usually) decides which way your book will go. It can be a cliffhanger, an emotional breakdown, or just something small to reassure the reader. It’s when they realize their patience has been rewarded.

Approach the chapter ending with the idea of tantalizing the reader to continue. Here are a few suggestions of traditional methods to end a chapter:

Promise : Hint or foreshadow what will happen next in the story.

Resolution : Look back or review what has happened before. Summarizing what preceded the chapter end refreshes the events in the reader’s mind. Especially after a big decision or the conclusion of a problem, this helps the reader wonder about what will come.

Cliffhanger : A phrase that comes from old serialized stories, where the character ends up in a dire situation at the end of an episode. Use them sparingly.

Story Change : The end of a time period or a point of view. The following chapter may be several years later or be told from a different character’s point of view.

Four ways to end a chapter

5. Events and Action

Whether the action in your chapter is a battle, a fight scene, or a character making a decision, lead your reader through as though your chapter were a mini-story. Create a beginning with a character goal, a middle with conflict and results, and an end that hints at what comes next.

Here’s a quick reference for the sequence of events:

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character

Character objective : What do they want?

Conflict : What impedes them from what they want?

Motive for antagonism : Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations

Character’s worldview : What belief system is he/she operating in?

Tactic : What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)

Turn : Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?

Objective achieved : Yes or no?

Exiting emotional state : If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

How to Structure a Novel Chapter

How you structure your chapter is crucial to your story’s pacing and how you maintain reader interest. Once you’ve decided how many chapters make up your story and how long they are, you’ll want to structure the chapters to keep the story moving.

Think of a chapter as a mini-story within the larger scope of the novel. Remember, there are no rules for chapters, but thinking about structure will help you navigate your chapter construction and the breaks within your story.

First, list the chapter components to get an overview of what happens in the chapter.

Chapter theme or big idea

Characters involved in the chapter

Chapter setting(s)

What happens at the beginning of the chapter?

What happens during the middle of the chapter?

What happens at the end of the chapter?

What is the most important moment in the chapter? (the conflict)

How does the chapter tie into the overall story?

Questions to ask yourself when writing a chapter

This list could help outline what you want to include when writing the chapter.

Organize the elements—conflict, character motivation, physical description of the setting, action of the whole chapter, tone, language—so the story flows through the goal, conflict, win or lose, and aftermath. These are just some things you’ll consider as you plan your chapter.

You want to consider how many scenes you’ll have in the chapter. Will the entire chapter consist of one scene? Or will you use several scenes to lead the reader through the goal, conflict, and resolution facing your character in the chapter?

Will the chapter end with a cliffhanger, foreshadowing the events in the next chapter, or simply continue the story you want the reader to follow?

How Many Chapters?

Chapters are not a requirement. Some authors have no chapters, like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road . But others may have 50 chapters or more.

Many readers use a chapter break as an opportunity to leave the book to do something else (most readers will not get through a complete novel in one sitting). When they return, they resume reading a new chapter.

The average number of chapters is about a dozen. But, genre expectations will vary.

The number of chapters in your novel is entirely up to you.

How Many Words?

A chapter doesn’t have an official length, and you may want to consider some shorter chapters mixed in with a few longer chapters.

Chapter page count can vary in length between just a couple of pages and 50 or 60. I’ve seen one-page chapters. Somewhere around the 20-page mark is about the average, which works out to about 5,000 words. Your genre may serve as a guideline for chapter length.

Averages words and scenes in a chapter

How Many Scenes?

The most important element of a novel is the story. The number of scenes in a novel is a great measure of the richness of your story. However, scenes are also a structural component of a novel. Working out what the right number of scenes are will have a major impact on your book.

You tell your story scene by scene. Some scenes may be several hundred words and others may be several thousand.

The more action there is, the shorter the scene should be. On the other hand, readers can lose interest if your narrative scene runs long without action and dialogue.

As your novel progresses, your storyline will take twists and turns. A well-structured chapter break allows the reader to pause and catch their breath. Your goal for a chapter is to provide a brief pause in the action, refresh the reader’s memory about what has happened again, and then return subtly to the main storyline.

Pacing refers to how fast or slow the story is moving for the reader . You determine the length, how much information to include, and how many questions you raise for your reader.

More information slows the pace because the reader has to mentally slow down to absorb it all. Dialogue and action speed the pace as your reader rushes through the interchange between characters.

When you vary the depth of emotional conflict in each scene, you control the pacing of the story.

If every scene contains high emotional conflict, your story becomes melodrama, and the reader finds the story unbelievable. The story fails to resonate as truthful. This is true when a character overreacts emotionally to a minor incident.

ProWritingAid's Pacing Report Screenshot

Getting the pacing right can be difficult, but ProWritingAid’s Pacing Report can help by highlighting slow-paced paragraphs so you can balance introspection with action and get an overview of your pacing.

Just Start Writing

The best part about the writing process is that you can always edit later. Get your ideas down, and work out if they are in the right place later. Your number of chapters might go up or down as you edit—what’s most important is to do what’s best for your story. Happy writing!

Are you prepared to write your novel? Download this free book now:

The Novel-Writing Training Plan

The Novel-Writing Training Plan

So you are ready to write your novel. excellent. but are you prepared the last thing you want when you sit down to write your first draft is to lose momentum., this guide helps you work out your narrative arc, plan out your key plot points, flesh out your characters, and begin to build your world..

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7 Steps of Writing an Excellent Academic Book Chapter

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Writing is an inextricable part of an academic’s career; maintaining lab reports, writing personal statements, drafting cover letters, research proposals, the dissertation—this list goes on. However, while these are considered as essentials during any research program, writing an academic book is a milestone every writer aims to achieve. It could either be your urge of authoring a book or you may have received an invite from a publisher to write a book chapter . In both cases, most researchers find it difficult to write an academic book chapter.

The questions that may arise when you plan on writing a book chapter are:

  • Where do I start from?
  • How do I even do this?
  • What should be the length of book chapters?
  • How should I link one chapter to the following chapter?

These questions are quite common when starting with your first book chapter. In this article, we’ll discuss the steps on how to write an excellent academic book chapter.

Table of Contents

What is an Academic Book Chapter?

An academic book chapter is defined as a section, or division, of a book. These are usually separated with a chapter number or title. A chapter divides the overall book topic into topic-specific sections. Furthermore, each chapter in a book is related to the overall theme of the book.

A book chapter allows the author to divide their work in parts for readers to understand and remember it easily. Additionally, chapters help create structure in your writing for a better flow of ideas.

How Long Should a Book Chapter be?

Typically, a non-fiction book chapter should be small and must only include information related to one major idea. However, since a non-fiction /academic book is around 50,000 to 70,000 words, and each book would comprise 10-20 chapters, each book chapter’s word limit should range between 3500 and 7000 words.

While there aren’t any standard rules to follow with respect to the length of a book chapter, it may vary depending on the genre of your writing. However, it is better to refer your publisher’s guidelines and write your chapters accordingly.

Difference between a Book Chapter and Thesis Chapter

What makes a book excellent are the book chapters that it comprises. Thus, the key to writing an excellent book is mastering the art of writing a book chapter . You’d think you could write a book easily because you’ve already written your dissertation. However, writing a book chapter is not the same as writing your thesis.

The image below shares 5 major differences between a book chapter and a thesis chapter:

book chapter

How to Write a Book Chapter?

As writing a book chapter is the first milestone in your writing journey, it can be overwhelming and difficult to garner your thoughts and put them down on a sheet at once. It takes time and effort to gain momentum for accomplishing this mammoth task. However, proper planning followed by dedicated effort will make you realize that you were worrying over something trivial.

So let us make the process of writing a book chapter easier with these 7 steps.

Step 1: Collate Relevant Information

How would you even start writing a chapter if you do not have the necessary information or data? The first step even before you start writing is to review and collate all the relevant data that is necessary to formulate an informative chapter.

Since a chapter focuses on one major idea it should not include any gaps that perplexes the reader. Creating mind-maps help in linking different sources of information and compiling them to formulate a completely new chapter. As a result, you can structure your ideas to help with your analysis and see it visually. This process improves your understanding of the book’s theme.  More importantly, sort the ideas into a logical order of how you should present them in your chapter. This makes it easier to write the chapter without convoluting it.

Step 2: Design the Chapter Structure

After spending hours in brainstorming ideas and understanding the fundamentals that the chapter should cover, you must create a structured outline. Furthermore, following a standard format helps you stay on track and structure your chapter fluently.

Ideally, a well-structured chapter includes the following elements:

  • A title or heading
  • An interesting introduction
  • Main body informative paragraphs
  • A summary of the chapter
  • Smooth transition to the next chapter

Even so, you may not restrict yourself to following only one structure; rather, add more or less to each of your chapters depending on your genre, writing style, and requirement of the chapter to maintain the book’s overall theme. Keep only relevant content in your chapter. Avoid content that causes the reader to go off on a tangent.

Step 3: Write an Appealing Chapter Title/Heading

How often have you put a book back on the book store’s shelf right after reading its title? Didn’t even bother to read the synopsis, did you? Likewise, you may have written the most impactful chapter, but what sense would it make if its title is not interesting enough. An impactful chapter title captures the reader’s attention. It’s basically the “first sight” rule!

Your chapter’s title/heading must trigger curiosity in the reader and make them want to read and learn more. Although this is the first element of a chapter, most writers find it easier to create a title/heading after completing the chapter.

Step 4: Build an Engaging Introduction

Now that you have captured the reader’s attention with your title/heading, it has obviously increased the readers’ expectations from the content. To keep them interested in your chapter, write an introduction that keeps them hooked on. You may use a narrative approach or build a fictional plot to grab the attention of the reader. However, ensure that you do not deviate from the main context of your chapter. Finally, writing an effective introduction will help you in presenting an overview of your chapter.

Some of the tricks to follow when writing an exceptional introduction are:

  • Share an anecdote
  • Create a dialogue or conversation
  • Include quotations
  • Create a fictional plot

Step 5: Elaborate on Main Points of the Chapter

Impactful title? Checked!

Interesting introduction? Checked!

Now is the time to dive in to the details imparting section of the chapter. Expand your opening statement and begin to explain your points in detail. More importantly, leave no space for speculation in the reader’s mind.

This section should answer the following questions of the reader:

  • Why has the reader chosen to read your book?
  • What do they need to know?
  • Are their questions and doubts being resolved with the content of your chapter?

Ensure that you build each point coherently and follow a cohesive flow. Furthermore, provide statistical data, evidence-based information, experimental data, graphical presentations, etc. You could formulate these points into 4-5 paragraphs based on the details of your chapter. To ensure you structure these details coherently across the right number of paragraphs, calculate the number of paragraphs in your text here .

Step 6: Summarize the Chapter

As impactful was the entry, so should be the exit, right? The summary is the part where you are almost done. This section is a key takeaway for your readers. So, revisit your chapter’s main content and summarize it. Since your chapter has given a lot of information, you’d want the reader to remember the gist of it as they reach the end of your chapter. Hence, writing a concise summary that constitutes the crux of your chapter is imperative.

Step 7: Add a Call-to-Action & Transition to Next Chapter

This section comes at the extreme end of the book chapter, when you ask the reader to implement the learnings from the chapter. It is a way of applying their newly acquired knowledge. In this section, you can also add a transition from your chapter to the succeeding chapter.

So would you still have jitters while writing your book chapter? Are there any other strategies or steps that you follow to write one? Let us know in the comments section below on how these steps helped you in writing a book chapter .

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Thank you I have got a full lecture for sure

Thank for the encouraging words

You have demystified the act of writing a book chapter. Thank you for your efforts.

Very informative

It has really helpful for beginners like me.

Very impactful and informative. Thank you 😊

Very informative and helpful to beginners like us. Thank you.

Thanks for this very informative article

You have made writing a book chapter seem very simple. I appreciate all of your hard work.

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Structure of a novel: How to write a chapter

The structure of a novel is important because it contributes to the clarity and flow of your story. Chapter structure is satisfying when the beginning, development and end contribute equally to the whole. Read 7 tips to write well-structured chapters, including examples from great fiction:

  • Post author By Jordan
  • 20 Comments on Structure of a novel: How to write a chapter

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First, what do book chapters do?

It’s easy enough to read a short story in a single sitting. It might take place in a single house in a single small town. Maybe it shows a character planning a party (or hiding a body). In a longer work of fiction, chapter breaks serve important purposes:

  • They give the reader space to pause and digest the information of the preceding chapter or scene.
  • They signal transition: A change in story location, a character embarking on a new goal, or the closing of one story arc and the start of another.

Dividing your story into related sections that make sequential sense gives readers a more structured, digestible experience.

Just as you should structure individual scenes well , you should apply this focus to your broader chapters.

Here are 7 useful ideas for how to structure a novel:

1. Use thematically relevant titles that connect to your story

Titles give cohesion to novels and short stories. Many authors don’t use chapter titles, and some novels don’t have chapter breaks at all, using unstructured presentation for creative effect.

For example, a book about a character losing their mind might begin with clear chapter structure , only to become disjointed to reflect the protagonist’s emotional state.

Chapter titles can contribute useful structure, however. A title may:

  • Hint what the coming chapter is about
  • Summarise (overtly or subtly) important themes or ideas in your story
  • Give useful information (such as a date or geographic location), helping the reader to understand where (or when) the events of your chapter occur

Consider this example: E. Annie Proulx’s Pulitzer-winning novel, The Shipping News  (1993).

Proulx’s story follows the trials of Quoyle, a reporter who moves with his children to the island of Newfoundland following a disastrous relationship.

Many of Proulx’s chapter titles are structured around the maritime themes of the novel. Several chapters are named after knots traditionally used by sailors.

The second chapter, ‘Love Knot’, for example, details Quoyle’s disastrous relationship with his children’s mother, Petal Bear. The chapter title is excellent because it conveys what the chapter will be about (difficult, i.e. ‘knotty’ love).

Proulx extends the implications of her title further with a subtitle in italics explaining what a ‘love knot’ is:

In the old days a love-sick sailor might send the object of his affections a length of fishline loosely tied in a true-lover’s knot. If the knot was sent back as it came the relationship was static. If the knot returned home snugly drawn up the passion was reciprocated. But if the knot was capsized – tacit advice to ship out.

Chapter title and subtitle thus give us a good indication of what to expect.

Story structure quote - Nicole Krauss | Now Novel

2. Use chapter titles to structure your story in different ways

In a guest post for Helping Writers Become Authors, Bryan Wiggins outlines 3 crucial purposes of chapter names :

1. Attracting the attention of readers 2. Finding and emphasizing each chapter’s focus 3. Orienting your fictional world and creating signposts that guide readers through your story.

There are many different ways to name chapters.

A literary novel that doesn’t have any singular important theme or location might simply have numbered chapters.

If, however, your novel is a historical epic spanning multiple countries and continents, consider beginning each chapter with the setting/location: ‘Paris, France’ or ‘Boston, Massachussets’. This immediately anchors the story to a particular place.

In novels where point of view (or POV) alternates between characters, you can start each chapter with the name of the character who is telling the story. This is what Faulkner does in As I Lay Dying  (more on Faulkner’s chapter structure below).

This device immediately indicates who is narrating. It leaves you free to use the first person without having to identify the narrator continuously.

In Michael Cunningham’s A Home at the End of the World, a novel about a triangular relationship between two men and a woman, this titling approach is used to present each different character’s desires, fears, and perceptions of the others.

Alternatively you can use chapter titles to draw readers’ attention to important themes or events.

In Virginia Woolf’s famous novel To the Lighthouse , a central section written from the point of view of time is simply called ‘Time Passes’. Each chapter within the section is then numbered starting from 1.

3. Start a chapter in a story with structure-enhancing links

Besides using titles, you can also structure your chapters by paying careful attention to how they start, develop and end.

Consider this example of a well structured book:

In Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer-winning novel Beloved  (1987), the first chapter begins ‘124 was spiteful.’ This brief opening sentence is echoed in the opening of the book’s middle section: ‘124 was loud’.

Each of these chapter openings echoes each other, referring to the street number of the house that is the setting for much of the story. This recurring opening structure creates a sense of something cyclical and menacing.

This mirrored opening structure mimics something cyclical about the nature of ghosts (a fundamental symbol of the story) and trauma (specifically, in Beloved , the trauma of slavery). The structure draws our attention to the cyclical effects of major personal and historical trauma, as it returns to take its toll.

Think of echoes you can create backwards and forwards through your story by structuring chapter openings around recurring ideas, symbols or themes (e.g. love, loss, renewal, tyranny, etc.)

4. Think about how long each chapter should be

Short, action-heavy chapters help to speed up the pace . Longer, reflective chapters that linger over setting or historical description give the reader a breather.

Longer chapters can make your story lose a sense of direction if they’re unfocused. To avoid this, make sure you structure longer chapters around pivotal character goals, encounters and developments. Make sure every scene has a specific purpose for your overarching story.

The length of a chapter should suit its purpose. A brief chapter that is only a page long (or even just a paragraph or two) can be used to poetic or dramatic effect, reinforcing the significance of an event. Unless the plot requires otherwise, aim for shorter rather than longer chapters. Many readers will appreciate being given manageable chunks of your story as opposed to an overwhelming slab of text.

Consider the following example from William Faulkner’s acclaimed novel,  As I Lay Dying  (1930).

The novel describes the Bundren family’s quest to bury their mother Addie in her hometown of Jefferson, MIssissippi, after she dies. 15 different characters narrate the story over its 59 chapters. Some chapters are as short as a page. For example, a chapter narrated by the eldest Bundren son, Cash, is only 13 points in a numbered list, as Cash describes how he made Addie’s coffin:

I made it on the bevel. 1. There is more surface for the nails to grip. 2. There is twice the gripping-surface to each seam. 3. The water will have to seep into it on a slant. Water moves easiest up and down or straight across.

The short, list-structured chapter is effective for multiple reasons:

  • It shows Cash’s methodical, responsible nature and ability as a carpenter
  • It shows the single-minded focus and care the family take over Addie’s burial preparations.

Faulkner gives us two crucial story elements in his concise, structured chapter. We get insight into Cash’s thoughtful and methodical character and a vital quest object – the casket the family ferries, through great hardship, to Mississippi.

Play with chapter length. Structure your chapters so that they cover exactly what they need to move us from scene to scene and goal to goal.

Infographic: How to structure your novel | Now Novel

5. Vary the length of your chapters for interesting novel structure

There’s no single perfect chapter length. A lot depends on your genre. In a murder mystery or thriller, a chapter lasting 27 pages that includes extensive setting description will reduce pace. Long, meandering chapters might convey epic historical time, whereas shorter chapters keep the pace taut and tense, the time now .

One of the best ways to keep scenes interesting is to vary sentence length. Short sentences stand out. Longer sentences can be lyrical or can communicate something  shorter ones can’t. The same structural principles apply to chapters. Vary their length according to the tone and overall effect you want to achieve. Is a team of crack policemen closing in on the perpetrator in your crime novel? Shorter chapters at this pivotal time can create a sense of mounting tension, threat and anticipation. To recap, the ideal length of your chapter depends on:

  • Your genre and its conventions
  • The pace and mood you want to create

6: Think about broader structure alongside individual chapters

When creating an outline or revising your novel for better flow and structure, think about the broad structure of your novel. Also think about the internal structure of individual chapters.

To create great internal chapter structure:

a) Begin with purpose and direction

The start of a chapter serves several important functions:

  • Roping the reader into the scene
  • Creating continuity or a shift from the previous section (a change in point of view, time period, setting or style)
  • Giving readers an idea of what the focus of the next part of your story will be

A strong chapter opening is key, especially at the start of your novel. Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds states that the first line is all important because if the reader says ‘that line was so damn good I’m in for the next 50 pages’, there is immediate commitment. Wendig makes a great analogy when he says ‘A good opening line is a stone in our shoe that we cannot shake.’ He describes the first chapter of a book as ‘the gateway drug to the second chapter’.

There are multiple ways to begin a chapter:

1. Starting i n medias res (in the thick of action). This can avoid unnecessary introductory waffle that bores readers. As Glen Strathy says, ‘Too often, novice writers start their stories with unnecessary preamble that bores a reader and makes him stop reading.’

2. Scene-setting – Beginning with a vividly painted scene is useful (particularly in genres such as historical romance) as it helps readers obtain a mental picture of an unfamiliar place and/or era.

3. Beginning a chapter with dialogue creates immediate questions that beg answers: ‘Who is speaking? What are they talking about? What is their relationship?’ Good dialogue thus creates a great pull towards further discovery.

When beginning a chapter, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I have a strong enough hook to make the chapter appealing?
  • Does it follow on from the previous chapter logically (will readers be able to follow the story’s thread from chapter to chapter?)
  • Do I have a clear sense of what the chapter should contribute to the story?

Consider writing a brief two-line summary before you start each chapter.

For a revenge saga, for example, you might write ‘In this chapter the reader will learn the villain’s motivation for killing the main character’s family’.

Having a guiding sense of purpose will help you avoid wasting time writing scenes you’ll axe in your final draft.

b) Ensure your chapter develops satisfyingly

A well structured chapter edifies us about the story to come. We are further along the story arc by the time the chapter is over, even if all that means is we know more about Cash’s personality (to return to the Faulkner example) and the vital features of his mother’s lovingly-made casket. To structure your chapter’s development, ask:

  • What chain of events does the chapter’s opening set in motion?
  • What changes might take place in the ‘5 Ws’ of story (who, what, why, where, or when) as the chapter unfolds?

c) Write an ending that strengthens chapter structure

Ending chapters is often challenging. Once you have momentum going, it can be hard to leave off a scene. Aaron Elkins, at Writer’s Digest, suggests splitting a story into chapters  whenever a story shift occurs. Says Elkin, ‘Changes of place, changes of time and changes of point of view are all excellent places for chapter breaks.’

Here are some places where it makes sense to create a break. Some might seem more obvious than others:

  • Just before the climax of a significant story arc: This is a classic trick of the thriller and mystery novel. Just when the reader has reached a tense moment she has to turn the page.
  • After the climax of a significant event: If you have given the reader unrelenting tension and eventfulness, bringing a minor arc to an end provides an ideal moment to let the reader relax before new intrigues begin.
  • Immediately after a development between two characters: An ending creates a sense of significance around it. A character might tell a secondary character fact about themselves or their history. By creating a pause with a chapter break, you signal to the reader that this information was important.

7. Use outlines and other organising tools

When it comes to creating story structure, an outline is extremely useful .

Being able to think of chapters as summary-form story units that you can move around as you want gives you freedom to move around the story’s parts.

Vladimir Nabokov, for example, wrote on index cards and would rearrange the chapters he wrote by shuffling the cards until he found a sequence that made sense as a whole.

Make time-lines for individual scenes and individual chapters, distilling the events of each unit into a few words. This is a very useful exercise when you have finished writing a first draft and want to knit your story together more precisely.

Whatever approach you use to structure and arrange chapters, planning what each chapter will cover before you start will give your story a sense of direction and purpose Understanding how to write a chapter well will help readers fall into the rhythm of your novel.

Want better structure in your story? Use the Now Novel dashboard to build a structured idea of your premise, characters, plot, setting and more in easy steps.

Related Posts:

  • How to write the first chapter of a book: 7 ideas
  • How to write chapters: Create a compelling Chapter 3
  • How to write a book chapter: 7 popular novels' insights
  • Tags chapter structure , how to write a chapter

essays written by chapter

Jordan is a writer, editor, community manager and product developer. He received his BA Honours in English Literature and his undergraduate in English Literature and Music from the University of Cape Town.

20 replies on “Structure of a novel: How to write a chapter”

I think the best writing advice I’ve found on writing chapters is contained within this post 😉 Honestly, I’ve not seen this topic covered in many text books.

I guess this approach focuses on creating a structure, not dissimilar to scene structure, but which operates discreetly to control pacing, progression, and so forth. Sharing this – it’s excellent!

Thanks so much for the kind feedback, Adrian. I’m glad you found this post useful! Thanks for sharing too. Yes I think structure can achieve all kinds of interesting effects, we often focus on the words themselves to the exclusion of considering structure and other equally important elements.

As always, interesting concepts to try and perhaps use. Personally I have always found when reading a novel that chapter titles tend to make the story more like a screenplay.

Thanks, Bob. Fair point – not everyone enjoys a very visible type of structuring. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts.

Thanks for the post I really enjoyed it and learnt a lot on the structuring chapters

I’m glad to hear it. Thanks for reading and for the feedback.

Thank you so much for this post. It is awesomely compact! Very educational. Now, I feel confident to pick up my pen and face my story.

That’s great to hear, Dera. It’s a pleasure! Good luck with your story.

Thanks for this useful information. I have three main protaganists who I alternate consistently through the novel and the book is structured over thirteen months. I was not sure whether each month was a chapter or each change in POV. This info has helped me decide. It will be POV.

Hi Carla, it’s a pleasure. I’m glad this was useful to your curent novel! That’s a classic strategy and works very well for creating a multi-voiced novel, in my opinion. Good luck as you proceed further.

This is super! Wonderful examples!

That’s great to hear, L.A. Thank you for reading!

This is an excellent article, thank you for posting it. I’ll now concentrate more on structure before diving into the detail of writing. It makes the daunting process of writing a novel more manageable.

Hi Alan, it’s a pleasure – thank you for reading it and taking the time to share feedback. Have fun with your current WIP and all the best for 2022!

thanks a lot as i am writing my first novel and i hope everyone will like it as i take your thoughts as my actions and at the right time i got this msg thanks to your thoughts all the best pls do post more like this for young writers like me

Hi Amru, it’s great you’re writing your first novel. Good luck and thanks for reading our blog. You’ll find other young writers to share mutual feedback with in our free critique forums.

I’m lucky to have found this post. I find it very useful and thanks for the sharing it.

Hi Chinenye, thank you for your kind feedback and for reading our blog, I’m glad you found this article useful.

This post has, in my opinion, the best writing advice I’ve come across for creating chapters. To be honest, I haven’t seen many textbooks address this subject.

This method, I suppose, is centered on developing a structure that functions covertly to regulate pacing, progression, and other aspects, much like scene structure. I’m sharing this because it’s great!

Thanks so much for writing in Purav, your comments are appreciated. So pleased that you have found the blog post super useful!

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Your Guide to Structuring Chapters

When you set out to write a novel, you’ll grapple with characters, plots, scenery, points of view, and all of those fantastical elements that make your story riveting to read and fun to write. What you may not give much thought to is the anatomy of your novel. It’s easy to neglect the technical and structural elements of your novel. Is the structure of your novel important anyway?

Absolutely! Every technical element from chapter to punctuation to sentence length feeds into your storytelling.

To master novel writing and provide an exquisite reading experience, you must give thought to even the smallest detail -- from word choice to chapter titles -- because it all matters.

As weird as it may seem, you can affect the reader’s level of engagement simply by the way you divide your novel into chapters. That, my friend, is what we’ll be discussing in this post.

Here’s a handy chapter outline worksheet you can use when editing your novel. Subscribe to receive this extra resource.

Download your bonus content:

What is the Purpose of a Chapter?

Chapters are one of those structural elements that you probably don’t think about much until you’re tasked with dividing your own book into sections. Then you’ll wonder:

What makes for a compelling chapter?

How do I decide when to end a chapter?

What do chapters do anyway?

Let’s start with the last question first. Chapters give your reader a mental respite. Chapter breaks allow the reader to digest everything that’s happened within that section.

Think of chapters as mini milestones posted throughout your story. Each milestone means that the reader is one step closer to the story’s conclusion, and that can be both satisfying and motivating.

Chapters are also practical. You’re asking the reader to stay with you through a 200+ page novel. No matter how spellbinding it is, it’s pretty rare for the average reader to consume it all in one sitting. Many readers use chapter breaks as an opportunity to break away and do something else.

That said, chapters aren’t mandatory. You may find that leaving chapters out of your novel actually adds to the mood. An excellent example of this is Cormac McCarthy’s The Road . The intentional absence of chapters feeds into the overall bleakness and never-ending grind of the story.

Don’t Divide Into Chapters at First

Your first draft is no place to think about chapter structure. While I’m a big fan of outlines and planning, I’m also a fan of getting it written and out of your head. It’s possible to spend so much of your time plotting and planning that you never actually end up writing anything.

When penning your first draft, don’t worry about sectioning your story into chapters. Chances are high that whatever you write in your first draft will get mixed up, divided, and added to other sections, if not tossed altogether.

If you lock your narrative into chapters too early in the writing process, you’ll suffocate your creativity.

Instead, wait until you’re in the editing phase to think about the structure of your story. It’s during the editing phase when you’re most effective at correcting flow, pacing, and logic. Once you know the basic story, the characters, and the main plot points, you can organize the story into sections that complement the reader’s journey.

I recommend sectioning your novel into chapters after writing the first draft. This allows you to assign each chapter a purpose. For example:

In chapter 1, we’ll be introduced to the protagonist. In chapter 2, we’ll meet the protagonist’s love interest. In chapter 3, we’ll set off on a journey. In chapter 4, we’ll flash back to the protagonist’s childhood.

To Title or Not to Title

essays written by chapter

Titling your chapters is a personal preference and not mandatory. If you wanted, you could simply use numbers to denote different chapters. But you may be wondering, What are the benefits of titling chapters?

There are three major benefits to titling your chapters.

  • Titles provide hints of what to expect within the chapter . Your title can motivate the reader to continue pushing through the novel to see what will happen next.
  • Titles provide easy reference points for the reader . Some readers like to refer back to an incident that happened earlier in the novel. Titles can serve as useful reference points.
  • Titles define and differentiate one chapter from the next . Sometimes, chapters blend together. Titles can help to distinguish and provide a small glimpse into the purchase of each chapter.

While titles may be natural for some novels, it can be jarring or disruptive for others. Use your writer’s discretion when coming up with a title for your chapters and, if you don’t feel good about the titles you’ve chosen, simply use numbers instead.

How to Start a Chapter

I’m a big fan of starting with action and not philosophy. Action engages and immediately pulls the reader into what’s happening. Philosophy makes the reader sit back and ponder the deeper meaning, and there’s certainly a place for that, but it’s not at the beginning of your chapter.

By action, I don’t mean high adrenaline, heart-pumping action, I mean activity-- even if that activity is simply a butterfly flittering into your scene. Of course, main character activity is always preferable.

Why start with action?

Remember that you want to get the reader involved with your characters as soon as possible, otherwise they’ll lose interest and put down your book. You don’t want to bore the reader with your endless, even if beautiful, descriptions of the scenery. Pull the reader in and make them care about what’s happening as soon as possible.

What to Include in Your Chapters

One popular way to approach chapters is to consider each as its own short story. While no chapter within a novel is an island, it can work as a short story where you have a decided beginning, middle, and end.

Sure this can get pretty complicated, but it doesn’t have to be.

This helps you keep the chapters as focused as possible so you don’t ramble

Chapter Length

How long should a chapter be?

Fortunately, there’s no set rule for chapter length. While many authors keep the chapters around the same length, it doesn’t mean that you can’t have a 20 page chapter right next to a 10 page chapter.

Chapter length feeds into pacing. Length can vary and become an intention part of your storytelling.

If you’d like to convey how quickly things are happening to or because of your protagonist, you may choose to insert several short chapters. It can give the sense that your protagonist has experienced a lot in a relatively short amount of time.

However, if you’d like to unpack the story and ask the reader to linger with a character, idea, or premise for a while, longer chapters may be in order.

Of course, you can also weave shorter and longer chapters together to create a steady and predictable pace.

When to End a Chapter

essays written by chapter

Not sure when to end a chapter?

The ending of your chapter does two things: it closes one door and it opens another one. By the end of each chapter, you should resolve at least one thing. Here are few ideas of how to end a chapter:

At a Natural Pause

Examples: You’ve come to the end of a major event or you’ve reached the end of a flashback. Check out these 5 tips to creating a backstory .

At a Cliffhanger for a Particular Character

Examples: Your protagonist has learned something new that changes everything or you’re on the eve of a major event.

When Switching Points of View

Examples: You have multiple points of view and each chapter is dedicated to a different character. Here's the difference between point of view and perspective .

How Many Chapters to Include

Just how many chapters should you include in your novel?

Most novels have between 10 to 12 chapters, but that’s not set in stone. You can have two chapters or 200 -- it all depends on how comfortable you are with experimenting.

Consider your dear reader. Will the chapter breaks make sense to that reader or will it be a disruption from the story? Some genres require more steadfast obedience to the rules than others. A romance novel is probably not the place to experiment with unique chapter breaks because it could distract the reader from enjoying the story.

Additional Resources

Before you go, check out these related posts:

  • Tension! What It Is and How to Develop It In Your Novel
  • How to Write a Novel With Multiple Points of View
  • Kill Your Darlings: How to Approach Your Writing Without Sentimentality

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Chapter by Chapter Outline Template for Writing Engaging Novels

A novel can take anywhere from a few months to several years to finish depending on the author. For students and novice writers, the process is daunting and difficult to start. The length of a novel makes it necessary for authors to plan out their novel before sitting down and writing it.

Outlining a novel helps the author think through what parts of the story should be included and what parts need more attention. It can also help authors plan out any subplots. A good outline for any novel helps the author plan out the entire novel and helps the author make sure they don’t miss any key points. Outlines can help reduce writer’s block . It can also help the writer to know what characters are needed next.

Outlining a novel can be immensely helpful for many reasons. For one, it can help you plan and organize your story before getting into the meat of the narrative. Additionally, outlining can help you to plan out conversations and scenes without having to think too hard about all the details such as what should happen at this point in time and who will say what.

An outline is usually created before the first draft of a novel. It can help writers to plan out their plot and characters.  The three major benefits of outlining a novel are the ability to have a clear view of your plot, being sure you have some sort of plan and having an idea of what you want to get out of your story. A plot outline gives you the chance to get a clear view of what is going on in your novel and not get lost in the details. This way you will know how everything ties together and can make sure that everything has been thought about. Having a clear view of your novel will also make it easier to know whether or not you have enough time to write it.

Chapter by chapter outlines are one of the most popular ways to create an outline for a novel. This is because chapters are easier to digest than reading all hundred pages of a rough draft. However, some writers prefer to outline their book by making notes on index cards or on pieces of paper so they can rearrange them as they go along.

The process for outlining a novel is different for every writer, but it’s always important that you have one before you start drafting your story.

This guide is intended for writers who want to create an engaging novel. This chapter by chapter outline template will help writers decide what should be included in the novel, which chapters should follow other chapters, and how to make the novel coherent:

Chapter One:

The Introduction: This is where you will introduce your character, begin creating a world where your character lives, and begin their backstory.

Chapter Two:

The Inciting Event: This is a pivotal moment in any story where you find out what’s changing the status quo and why. However, this isn’t just for romance novels! For example, suppose your protagonist finds himself or herself involved with some sort of conflict resolution (such as solving crimes). In that case, this could be an essential point during their journey to kick off onto victory road towards success.

Chapter Three:

The Mini-Obstacle: A mini-obstacle is a hurdle that stops our characters from working toward their goal. These can be anything, like personal problems or distractions at work; it just has to be something small enough, so they’re not able to reach the finish line yet!

Chapter Four:

The Mini-Resolution: With a mini-resolution, our character doesn’t necessarily win but is satisfied for now. The character’s life isn’t resolved, but they have a moment of satisfaction.

Depending on the length of the novel, continue the pattern of mini-obstacle and mini-resolution. Do this as many times as you need to for as many chapters as you need. For example, in a romance novel, this timeframe is where they would fall in love. 

Chapter Five:

Lead up to the climax/black moment: This is where things start to go wrong.

Chapter Six:

The Climax/Black Moment: The climax is often the black moment of a story. It’s when all hope for a relationship/resolution seems lost and those conflicts they’ve been struggling with since the beginning come to a head, bringing everything full circle in an unforgettable scene!

Chapter Seven:

If the novel is romance, this is the “miserable and alone” chapter. If it’s not, this could be the “I’ll never make it” or the “I’m not good enough” moment. Everything looks bleak.

Chapter Eight:

Things are on the rise. The protagonist finds the will to carry on. Our love birds discover they can’t live without each other. It’s time for compromise and sacrifice. Compromise and sacrifice will lead us to the finish line!

Chapter Nine:

The resolution. The protagonist wins! The lovers get back together! Everything is as it should be, and the reader is relieved that everything turned out okay.

Give a glimpse into the future and what it holds for the characters. What happened after the victory? Is the world finally at peace? Have the lovers gotten married? Then, wrap it up like a gift for your reader. (Note: If your novel ends in a cliffhanger, you can omit the epilogue and use a mini-resolution or a happy-for-now to build up that cliffhanger ending for the next book.)

A few more tips: 

  • Since no two authors have the same chapter lengths, A helpful way to find the perfect balance between a book’s overall length and chapter lengths would be by looking at how long each section should take up. For example, the lead-up or introduction should last one-third of your chapters, while other significant events in your story could have equal spaces allocated towards them as well, so they don’t grow disproportionately longer than other parts throughout the reading time.
  • When repeating the mini-obstacle/mini-resolution pattern, it’s expected that the challenges start small and grow larger throughout the book. This is where your character is forced to grow while we cheer them on.

We hope this chapter-by-chapter outline was helpful to you.  Do you have any tips for writing an outline?  Let us know in the comments below.

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What Everybody Ought To Know About Writing A First Chapter

  • by Paige Duke
  • September 8, 2015

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Want to hook readers so they can’t walk away from your book? Want to catch an agent’s attention and stand out from the rest of the slush pile? Want to get that elusive word-of-mouth buzz about your book? Writing an amazing first chapter is one of the most powerful ways of achieving these goals. Easier said than done, though, right?

Below I’ve outlined some of the most essential elements to writing a strong story beginning. And as an example, I’ll show you the very short but powerful first chapter from Daniel Handler’s YA novel Why We Broke Up .

You’ve probably read all about the hook . But in case you haven’t, the hook is how you capture the reader’s full attention in your first line and first paragraph. Getting a compelling opening is SO important. It’s your first impression with a reader, your chance to convince them that your book is one they must keep reading.

So, what makes a good hook? There are many possibilities, but some tried-and-true approaches are:

  • raise a question the reader must see answered,
  • jump into the middle of the action,
  • start at the moment of the protagonist’s predicament,
  • make a statement of promise or great possibility.

However you go about it, the key is suspense: string your reader along so they MUST keep reading.

Here’s how Why We Broke Up starts.

Dear Ed, In a sec you’ll hear a thunk. At your front door, the one nobody uses. It’ll rattle the hinges a bit when it lands, because it’s so weighty and important, a little jangle along with the thunk, and Joan will look up from whatever she’s cooking … she’ll go and see. You won’t, Ed. You wouldn’t … so it’s your sister, Joan, who will open the door even though the thunk’s for you. You won’t even know or hear what’s being dumped at your door. You won’t even know why it even happened.

You don’t know what this book is about yet—you can guess by the title and by the fact that the story starts as a letter—but does it matter? Did it grab you by the collar and make you have to know what’s waiting for Ed at his front door and why it’s there?

That’s the power of starting with a great hook.

The story question

What is the story question ? It’s the problem or predicament at the heart of your plot or character arc . In short, it’s what your book is about. Giving readers a sense of the story question in your first chapter is key. Because it prolongs and builds on that suspense you created with the hook. It’s how you make them keep reading.

Okay, so we’re curious; we want to know who this Ed guy is and why he’s getting dumped and what the thunk is at his front door. We can infer that this book is about a breakup. But it’s more nuanced than that, right? Look at how Handler goes a step further using the story question right at the end of his first chapter to keep us locked in to this story.

I’m telling you why we broke up, Ed. I’m writing it in this letter, the whole truth of why it happened. And the truth is that I goddamn loved you so much.

So, this may be a bit too straightforward for some of us, but it works for this genre and this particular story concept. My point is, somewhere in your first chapter in some way (doesn’t have to be this direct), state the story problem for your readers. This will help them commit. They’ll go (subconsciously), “Oh, that’s what this story is about,” and they’re ready to go the distance with you, to take this journey with your characters.

The character introduction

Speaking of characters … your readers need to meet main characters in the first chapter. Unless delaying this introduction is a very strategic part of your story, the first chapter should be about your protagonist and their predicament. Who is your main character? What is his/her daily life like that’s about to be disrupted by the plot of this story? What do your characters care about and what are their goals ? And most importantly, why should readers care about this protagonist? Show them and they’ll keep reading.

By the end of the first chapter of Why We Broke Up , you’ve met Ed, his sister Joan, and the (unnamed) protagonist, Min. They’re the three central characters of this story, and in one page you learn quite a lot about who they are, what they’re like, and what they care about. And by the end of this one page, you start to care too.

The tension

Once you create this delicious momentum in your first paragraph, you want to keep it going. Filling your opening scenes with (authentic) tension is a great technique for doing this. Tension comes in many shapes and sizes —action, loaded dialogue, heightened emotions, foreshadowing, etc. One way to figure out where the inherent tension is in your story is to look at your story question: what implications does it have for these characters we are starting to care about? Let readers feel that so strongly on every page that they have to keep reading. Watch how Handler does this with setting and mood.

It’s a beautiful day, sunny and whatnot. The sort of day when you think everything will be all right, etc. Not the right day for this, not for us, who went out when it rains, from October 5 until November 12. But it’s December now, and the sky is bright, and it’s clear to me. I’m telling you why we broke up, Ed.

A big complaint about writing the first chapter is what to do with backstory. Here’s the scoop: Avoid it. Most of it, anyway. If you’ll start where the action is, just before your protagonist encounters his/her predicament, you can sprinkle in just enough backstory to ground your readers. The rest needs to come later as readers get to know your character along the way.

What kind of backstory do we get about Min and Ed? They were dating for a month and now they’re breaking up. Min is bringing Ed something that goes thunk at his front door and she was in love with him. It’s not much, is it? But do you need more right now? Having read it, I can tell you that the momentum in this story is about what you don’t know , what you have to find out as the story goes on.

What pieces of your story are absolutely essential for readers to know in your Chapter 1? Leave the rest for later and dole them out at just the right time. That’s how you write a stellar first chapter and keep readers hanging on.

One thing I consistently hear about agents slogging through their slush pile is that a unique voice stands out above the crowd. I’m NOT advocating that you go crazy and write in a way that’s not genuine to you just to get attention. I think the key is to immerse yourself as deeply and authentically as you can into the lives and personalities of your characters so that you start to take on their voices.

To me, that’s one of the strongest elements of Why We Broke Up . You learn about Min later that she’s a junior in high school, and she’s obsessive about old and obscure movies. Can’t you hear that in her voice? The sense of drama and flair? You really lose the sense of Daniel Handler the author and dive deeply into Min’s world, her concerns, her heartbreak. It’s in the drama and emotion, but it’s also in the kinds of metaphor and simile Handler uses—he writes the world of the story through Min’s eyes, from her mind. The narrative voice itself is shaped through her experience, not from outside it looking in.

It’s all these little things coming together to create a unique sense of voice, and it all starts with immersion into the character’s world and his or her most deeply held concerns, interests, and values. So, go and dive into your character, immerse yourself, then come back to that first chapter and see if you don’t have a refreshed, nuanced voice.

Writing Chapter 1 can sometimes feel like a gargantuan task. But don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. The elements of an amazing first chapter are no secret, and you can use them as tools to construct the right opening for your story. Take some time and review these, go read some other strong first chapters, saturate yourself in the world of your story and characters, then come back to your Chapter 1. You’ll see it in a new light, and you’ll be armed with new tools and fresh inspiration to get your story opening in great shape.

What elements do you rely on when writing your first chapter? What parts are hardest for you in getting your story opening off on the right foot?

  • Story hooks , Young adult

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6 thoughts on “What Everybody Ought To Know About Writing A First Chapter”

essays written by chapter

What if a writer has difficulty forming a voice because he or she is employing third-person narration despite the usage of dialogues between the protag and other characters as well as spare usage of the protag’s internal monologue?

essays written by chapter

Hi Chantale,

Finding your authentic narrator voice within a story can be a real challenge. Many writers find third-person narration especially challenging in the way it views the action, emotion, and feelings of the protagonist from a distance. Third-person narration still has many advantages, though.

If you’re committed to using third-person narration, one thing you might do is spend some time away from your story just trying to get more deeply entrenched in the world, emotions, background, and thoughts of your character (using techniques like interviewing your character, visualizing scenes through their eyes, imagining past scenes that aren’t included in the book, etc.). Then when you revisit your manuscript, you might find yourself writing with a fresh voice.

Here are several other related articles from our site that might be helpful to you in exploring this topic: //www.standoutbooks.com/3-questions-need-answer-can-write-strong-distinctive-voice/ //www.standoutbooks.com/can-include-accent-dialect-dialogue/ //www.standoutbooks.com/third-person-point-view/

Best of luck with your book!

Wow! Paige, thank you for your solid suggestions, expertise and guidance with regard to third-person narration. I will stick with that POV for my novella-in-progress. I had toyed with the idea of changing to first-person POV to make the unreliable narration stronger, but — as I’ve learned from reading articles here on STANDOUTBOOKS — the advantages of TPN are too attractive to resist for the purpose of my story’s plot progression.

Without realizing it, I was on a decent path earlier this year, during winter, having traveled to the location where the book takes place. (Relatives didn’t understand that, occasionally, writers can’t help writing when they say, “I’m traveling on vacation. Writers can’t separate writing from their identity, and we can be creating a piece despite stepping away from a novel or short story or screenplay or poem.)

I smiled reading the portion of your reply involving fresh insight on a character. During the aforementioned vacation, I purposely got lost in my vacation destination and disciplined myself to walk in my main character’s shoes (or snowboots, as it were). If there was an incident or scene or natural phenomenon that would not have fazed me, I imagined how it would faze my protagonist — and the result was invigorating, even in subzero temps!

Following your recommendation, I’m setting the book (novella) aside for a bit. I love the idea of giving my creative mind a break in terms of that project, and I trust (myself) that my devotion to the protagonist — troubled woman that she is — and my compassion for the dear victim, er, fellow that she might encounter will make me embrace the novella’s development like a baby. And like a baby, in due time.

I relish the plan of returning to that city for fresh insights into her motivations and actions, as well as those of several other characters, taking a few notes and not just relying on reference shots with my camera. There are more than a few twisty, medieval streets that I’d like to wander. However, when I return home, I’ll do as you suggest and set aside my manuscript again and for a while, perhaps for several weeks.

I realize that I was frustrating myself further by not letting go of the ending. Hopefully I’ll convince the stubborn writer in me to stop trying to make the story fit the ending. But, alas, it might have been such an awesome ending for the readers as well as for me.

Lastly, thank you so much for providing links. This morning I’ll be reading all info contained therein, coffee mug in hand and caffeine in my bloodstream. Paige, merci beaucoup pour tout.

It sounds like you know exactly what you need to do to delve deeper into your character. Traveling on location whenever possible; immersing yourself in your characters’ shoes; imagining their thoughts, actions, and feelings; setting your manuscript aside to get helpful distance–these are all such great ways of getting renewed perspective and developing your narrator voice. Judging from your note, I’d guess you have very strong intuitions as a writer about what your characters and your story need; trust them, they’ll serve you well.

Best wishes!

essays written by chapter

Excellent tips as always! One thing I was surprised wasn’t covered in this post is pacing: The first chapter (or few chapters) sets the pacing for the rest of the story. If the beginning is slow, the readers will expect the broad average of the pacing to be slow-ish; if the beginning is fast, vice versa.

I rewrote my first chapter (well, first few chapters, same idea) at least three times, trying to find a good setup. In the end, I accidentally implemented a lot of the advice in this post: posing the question of the story, introducing characters, creating tension with foreshadowing, leaving out backstory.

One question for you though, if you have the time. I wonder about the actual criticality of the “first sentence” or “first paragraph”, especially in a slow-paced fantasy/adventure story of 120,000 words or so. The first chapter of my book is a good setting for the story – it opens on a tense conversation between friends, foreshadowing the plot and the questions that will be posed and answered, etc – but the first sentence is merely “Hey Chris.”, and the first paragraph isn’t that much more descriptive.

I’ve read books that don’t have memorable opening sentences/paragraphs and were nonetheless excellent, but I would like a second opinion. Is there something inherently better about an instantaneous, highly-gripping hook?

essays written by chapter

Thanks for commenting, and for the great point about setting pace.

As for the first line, this is something we went on to address in Does Your First Line Really Matter? (Spoilers: we came to pretty much the same conclusion you did.)

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Picture Prompts

125 Picture Prompts for Creative and Narrative Writing

What story can these images tell?

Paper sits in a typewriter. The words “It was a dark story night” have already been typed.

By The Learning Network

For eight years, we at The Learning Network have been publishing short, accessible, image-driven prompts that invite students to do a variety of kinds of writing via our Picture Prompts column.

Each week, at least one of those prompts asks students: Use your imagination to write the opening of a short story or poem inspired by this image — or, tell us about a memory from your own life that it makes you think of.

Now we’re rounding up years of these storytelling prompts all in one place. Below you’ll find 125 photos, illustrations and GIFs from across The New York Times that you can use for both creative and personal writing. We have organized them by genre, but many overlap and intersect, so know that you can use them in any way you like.

Choose an image, write a story, and then follow the link in the caption to the original prompt to post your response or read what other students had to say. Many are still open for comment for teenagers 13 and up. And each links to a free Times article too.

We can’t wait to read the tales you spin! Don’t forget that you can respond to all of our Picture Prompts, as they publish, here .

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Everyday life, mystery & suspense, relationships, science fiction, travel & adventure, unusual & unexpected, cat in a chair, happy puppy, resourceful raccoon, cows and cellos, people and penguins, opossum among shoes, on the subway, sunset by the water, endless conversation, falling into a hole, lounging around, sneaker collection, the concert, meadow in starlight.

essays written by chapter

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Public Selfies

Night circus, tarot cards, castle on a hill, security line, batman on a couch, reaching through the wall, beware of zombies, haunted house, familial frights, witches on the water, blindfolded, phone booth in the wilderness, shadow in the sky, a letter in the mail, hidden doorway.

essays written by chapter

Point of No Return

Darkened library, under the table, playing dominoes, looking back, a wave goodbye, out at dusk, conversation, walking away, alone and together, a new friend, heated conversation, up in a tree, hole in the ceiling, under the desk, at their computers, marching band, band practice, in the hallway, in the lunchroom, the red planet, tech gadgets, trapped inside, astronaut and spider, computer screen, special key, tethered in space, on the court, in the waves, city skateboarding.

essays written by chapter

Fishing in a Stream

Over the falls.

essays written by chapter

Under the Sea

Sledding in the mountains, cracked mirror, wilderness wayfaring, car and cactus, walking through town, tropical confinement, travel travails, roller coasters, atop the hill, climbing a ladder, under the ice, other selves.

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  1. College Essay Format: Simple Steps to Be Followed

    essays written by chapter

  2. How to write a Synthesis Essay

    essays written by chapter

  3. Science Essay

    essays written by chapter

  4. AI now writes essays

    essays written by chapter

  5. Essay Writing Examples

    essays written by chapter

  6. College Essay Examples

    essays written by chapter


  1. Essay Writing

  2. The SWS Book of Essays and Letters

  3. IGCSE Source Analysis Made Easy. Cambridge Made Changes

  4. Essays, First Series (FULL audiobook)

  5. Festschrift: A Celebration of Circe Institute's Andrew Kern

  6. CSEC English A: Brilliant Essays (Written by Students)


  1. How to write your chapter outlines

    TIP 1: Each chapter outline only needs to be a couple of sentences to a paragraph. Don't overcomplicate things, pare the story back to the bones in your chapter outlines. TIP 2: If you're writing your chapter summaries / outlines for a book proposal (to go to an agent or publisher), include the working title of your memoir, your proposed ...

  2. How to Outline a Novel Chapter by Chapter

    4. Use Chapter Objectives. Ultimately, each chapter is designed to move the action forward. Throughout most novels, the main character works toward an objective and encounters numerous obstacles along the way. In each chapter section of your outline, you can make notes about how the events of that chapter will advance the character's story.

  3. How to Write a Chapter-By-Chapter Outline

    Chapter 2. Synopsis: Harry makes the glass disappear at the zoo. Connection: We see the magic that was hinted at last chapter. Compelling: Seeing Harry's horrible life and accidental magic. (NOT Harry at school accidentally using magic) Chapter 3. Synopsis: Harry gets a mysterious letter in the mail. Connection: Because Harry's life is ...

  4. How to Write a Book Chapter in 7 Simple Steps for Your Nonfiction Book

    Keep this short and to the point. Here's how to write a summary of a book chapter: #1 - Skim the chapter and take notes of any major points or key takeaways. #2 - Jot down each point or key takeaway. #3 - Summarize each point in your own words. #4 - Whittle it down to 1 or 2 sentences for each point.

  5. Chapter Structure: How to Write the Perfect Chapter

    Again, chapter structure is all about shaping your readers' experience. This means that a well-structured chapter should fulfill a few requirements. It should: Help your reader keep track of the events of your story. Provide natural pausing points for your reader to leave and return to. Create a sense of suspense and urgency in your reader.

  6. Three Steps to Write Chapter Outlines That Work

    Step Three: Condense Each Chapter to a Paragraph. Once you've summarized your main events, we're going to expand our outline even more. This time, we're going to write a paragraph or multi-paragraph summary for each chapter. You can do this in point form, too.

  7. How to Structure a Novel Chapter

    Starting the chapter in the middle of action, in medias res, is one of the best ways to bring your reader back into the story. After their break from the preceding chapter, you want them to jump right into what happens next. 2. Settings. Let your reader know how much time has elapsed since the last chapter.

  8. 7 Steps of Writing an Excellent Academic Book Chapter

    Step 1: Collate Relevant Information. Step 2: Design the Chapter Structure. Step 3: Write an Appealing Chapter Title/Heading. Step 4: Build an Engaging Introduction. Step 5: Elaborate on Main Points of the Chapter. Step 6: Summarize the Chapter. Step 7: Add a Call-to-Action & Transition to Next Chapter.

  9. Structure of a Novel

    Here are 7 useful ideas for how to structure a novel: 1. Use thematically relevant titles that connect to your story. Titles give cohesion to novels and short stories. Many authors don't use chapter titles, and some novels don't have chapter breaks at all, using unstructured presentation for creative effect.

  10. The Beginner's Guide to Writing an Essay

    Come up with a thesis. Create an essay outline. Write the introduction. Write the main body, organized into paragraphs. Write the conclusion. Evaluate the overall organization. Revise the content of each paragraph. Proofread your essay or use a Grammar Checker for language errors. Use a plagiarism checker.

  11. How to Write Chapter After Chapter Until You Have a Book

    Push Readers Towards the Cliff. Write each chapter so that a nice little cliff-hanger keeps the reader hooked and turning pages to the end of the book. This hook doesn't to be a literal cliff hanger, but that's nice too. At the end of Chapter 12 in Stephen King's frighteningly tense novel Misery, he keeps readers going with the sentence ...

  12. How to Structure Chapters of Your Novel: 8 Tips for Writing Chapters

    Chapters are the vessels of story structure, organizing the plot points ","category":"automated-link"}' automatic='true'>plot points of the larger work and allowing the reader to take a break and absorb what they've learned. A short story can be read in one sitting, but a novel is usually broken up into accessible parts, forming a book that ...

  13. How to Write a Good Book Chapter: Steps & Examples

    With that, let's dive into how to construct a good chapter. Three main steps to writing a good chapter: Follow your Mindmap & Outline. Stay on one point while writing until reaching a finished thought, then move to the next. Complete a thorough self-edit. Follow these three main steps, and you will be well on your way to creating a good ...

  14. How to Create Chapters in Your Novel

    I recommend sectioning your novel into chapters after writing the first draft. This allows you to assign each chapter a purpose. For example: In chapter 1, we'll be introduced to the protagonist. In chapter 2, we'll meet the protagonist's love interest. In chapter 3, we'll set off on a journey.

  15. Chapters In A Book: How To Structure Them Well

    How To Start A Chapter. Starting a chapter can be daunting in much the same way as starting a book. Luckily, some of the same advice applies. Below is a process you can use for any genre. As before, use it as a planning tool or a reviewing tool, depending on your writing style. Starting A Chapter- Reader's Attention Method

  16. (PDF) Writing and publishing a book chapter

    separately and then assemble it again later on in the writing process. - Advantage: If you get stuck while writing a specific part, you can carry on. with another part. - METHOD 2: Keep the ...

  17. Chapter by Chapter Outline Template for Writing Engaging Novels

    Chapter by chapter outlines are one of the most popular ways to create an outline for a novel. This is because chapters are easier to digest than reading all hundred pages of a rough draft. However, some writers prefer to outline their book by making notes on index cards or on pieces of paper so they can rearrange them as they go along.

  18. What Everybody Ought To Know About Writing A First Chapter

    Writing Chapter 1 can sometimes feel like a gargantuan task. But don't let yourself get overwhelmed. The elements of an amazing first chapter are no secret, and you can use them as tools to construct the right opening for your story. Take some time and review these, go read some other strong first chapters, saturate yourself in the world of ...

  19. APA Formatting and Style Guide (7th Edition)

    Resources on writing an APA style reference list, including citation formats. Basic Rules Basic guidelines for formatting the reference list at the end of a standard APA research paper Author/Authors Rules for handling works by a single author or multiple authors that apply to all APA-style references in your reference list, regardless of the ...

  20. How to Write a Chapter Summary of to Kill a Mockingbird

    This essay about summarizing "To Kill a Mockingbird" highlights the importance of precision and understanding in crafting chapter summaries. It emphasizes the significance of character analysis, thematic exploration, and concise writing in capturing the essence of Harper Lee's masterpiece.

  21. How to cite a chapter written by someone other than the book's authors

    When a chapter in an authored book was written by someone other than the book's authors, your instincts might tell you to cite it as if it were from an edited book—that is, citing the chapter authors in the author position and the book authors in the editor position without "Eds." in parentheses. Doing so could cause confusion given ...

  22. APA Citation

    One would still cite the chapter so that the reader can locate the cited material. More typical is that an authored chapter is in a book edited by editor(s). In either of these cases, the chapter author(s) and chapter title are presented first, and in the same manner as for articles and books, i.e., last name followed by initial(s).

  23. Chapterly

    Everything you'll ever need to write and publish your story. Chapterly is purpose-built by best-selling authors to be the best authoring app to get published. Start Your Free Trial Now. Get 2 weeks free, then pay as little as $9.99/mo. No commitments.

  24. Book chapters: What to cite

    In the text, when you have paraphrased an edited book chapter, cite the author (s) of the chapter and the year of publication of the book, as shown in the following examples. Parenthetical citation of a paraphrase from an edited book chapter: (Fountain, 2019) Narrative citation of a paraphrase from an edited book chapter: Fountain (2019) If the ...

  25. Breakthrough Copyediting and Proofreading

    Welcome to your next chapter—literally. Whether you're looking to add another feather to your career cap or are ready to trade in that office chair for a cozier reading nook, proofreading might be your calling. Imagine a career where you set the pace, enhance the impact of the written word, and pay the bills, too.

  26. 125 Picture Prompts for Creative and Narrative Writing

    Choose an image, write a story, and then follow the link in the caption to the original prompt to post your response or read what other students had to say. Many are still open for comment for ...

  27. Seduced by Furries: Scenarios

    All Writing.Com images are copyrighted and may not be copied / modified in any way. All other brand names & trademarks are owned by their respective companies. Generated in 0.20 seconds at 6:26pm on May 01, 2024 via server web2.

  28. Authors feed their own literary works into AI models for the sake of

    Anderson says he fed parts of his first novel into an AI writing platform to help him write this new one. The system surprised him by moving his opening scene from a corporate meeting room to a ...

  29. cfp

    Call for Papers Hybridity and Women's Writing in Eighteenth-century Britain. Guest Editors: Francesca Blanch-Serrat and Paula Yurss Lasanta (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) In the last four decades, hybridity has become an umbrella term encompassing a variety of disciplines, including biology, linguistics, postcolonial studies, media studies, and cultural studies.

  30. 79-year-old Bismarck man flips to a new chapter with his book

    BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Francis Miller is about a month shy of his 80th birthday, but he said he's in his second childhood. "You have to let your imagination run," said Miller. Miller is ...