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Monday, 11 February 2013

Chapters & EBooks

I read a blog post last week that intrigued me a little. It discussed whether eBooks need chapters or whether the electronic form has made them somewhat redundant. The blog by Lily White LeFevre can be found in full here but this is one of the key paragraphs: "I can see good reasons for dividing some works into chapters.  Novels which are heavily episodic, novels which are told from multiple points of view, novels which have a lot of strong breaks between scenes instead of soft transitions—chapter breaks (even, I grudgingly admit, cliffhangers) still make sense for these types of books.  But a typical story?  One with several scenes per chapter, no single event the chapter is built around, and no discernible internal denouement to break up the story?  I am not sure there is still a point to using chapters, other than tradition." Hmm, makes sense I suppose but I'm still not sold.

I'm reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall at the moment and discovering I'm still very much a chapters girl. Despite the temptation of putting down my Kindle at any point, I still always read chapters in their entirety when I get the choice. Obviously, if someone yells for me or I'm on a train I have to pause mid-chapter but that happens just as often with printed books. I like the closure of chapters and I like reading the book the way the author intended. I always have a good reason when I'm writing to insert my chapter breaks where I do and I suspect that's the same for most writers. Equally, as a reader I find a chapter break tells me when to breathe within a story. For instance, I stopped reading the other night just as Gilbert Markham discovered something unpalatable about the object of his affections. I loved leaving the story there to come back to the next morning. It was a marker whereby Anne Bronte told me that was a good place to leave the book if I needed to. And it was. LeFevre freely admits that she doesn't like cliffhangers but, unfortunately, I do. To me, they're an essential part of both reading and writing. Not for every chapter, of course, but they are excellent tools to be utilised where appropriate.

Out of the six novels I've drafted (see here for details) only one of them doesn't include traditional chapters 'Liz' is a novel separated into three parts and has scenes within which alternate between my two viewpoint characters. This originally started out as a novella and since I had no clue on final length I just allowed the scene-then-swap structure to take charge. The two 'breaks' in the narrative document huge changes. Would that be disconcerting to a reader of the print copy, to see only three chapters within what is currently a 55,000 word book? Possibly. And probably, like LeFevre suggests, this would be much easier for a reader of an eBook to deal with. The scene breaks would provide all the 'pauses' necessary for a short novel.

There. I seem to be talking myself round to her point of view but the fact still remains that I rely on chapters. I dislike books that don't have them - in both print and eBook forms - and I do think that if you're going to dispense with chapters then at least have a good reason for doing so. From a cursory glance at some self-published eBooks it's easy to see that some authors think the new form just gives them the opportunity to break all the 'rules'. One thing that really irritates me is the lack of consideration to the reader in some cases. After all, the one speaker per line 'rule' is there to help the reader differentiate speakers and not have to tap back three pages to try and figure out who's talking now. Of course, some authors would say that distinctive characterisation means you should be able to tell who's talking. Yes, you should but I find those to be exceptional cases. For the most part, some markers are necessary. I read a book that was part of a series around Christmas which mangled this 'rule' (not consistently either, which felt bizarre). While the book was fairly entertaining, I don't feel like I can put myself through the chore of reading the next in the series.

I suppose what it comes down to is that the 'rules' are there to help the reader, not the author. I may be an anomaly as far as chapters and speaking rules go, perhaps they aren't as important as my gut tells me. But I would find it difficult to write without them. I'd love to hear other views on this - am I in the minority?

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