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Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Over Christmas break, I read the Divergent series.  The first two books were fantastic. The third one, Allegiant, just made me mad. I won’t spoil it if you haven’t read the book, but even more than the plot twist, I was frustrated by the sudden shift to one-page chapters.

This begs the question–how long does a chapter have to be? Where do you break the story? Obviously, Veronica Roth is successful and a one page chapter was acceptable to her publishers. Still, could someone who is trying to break out with a debut novel get away with it?

I’ve struggled with this question a lot myself, and I’m certainly not the expert, but here’s what I could find.

According to Brian A Klems, with Writer’s Digest, there’s no specific rule. It just needs to deliver the plot and move the story forward, kind of like an act on a TV show.

That’s easy enough advice to follow, but leads to a follow-up–how do you know where to start and finish the act?

The best definitive answer I’ve found is from Randy Ingermanson, author of Writing Fiction for Dummies.

He divides a chapter into two levels of structure, the scene and the sequel.  The scene, he divides into goal, conflict, and disaster.  The sequel is comprised of the reaction to the disaster, some kind of dilemma, and a decision made by the character. Then, the suggestion is to alternate between the two.

What I’m not sure of, and experimenting with in my own story, is whether the chapter should be divided between scene and sequel, or at the end of the whole process.  I’d love for anyone who has expertise to comment and advise the rest of us.