108 – Chapters, What Are They Good For?

The Mythcreant Podcast

If you’ve ever wondered why authors bother to divide their books into numbered chunks called chapters, this is the podcast for you. Chapters are present in nearly every novel published today, but they’re something we don’t often think about. This week we are joined by new guest host Kristin, and with her help we unravel the mystery. Are chapters a place for the reader to pause and get some sleep, or is their job to make the reader want to continue? Are cliffhangers a good idea? When should you divide your novel into parts? Will Chris ever stop being mad when a novel is divided into more than one “book?” Listen to find out!

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Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Terry Pratchett’s full quote on chapters: “Life doesn’t happen in chapters — at least, not regular ones. Nor do movies. Homer didn’t write in chapters. I can see what their purpose is in children’s books (“I’ll read to the end of the chapter, and then you must go to sleep”) but I’m blessed if I know what function they serve in books for adults.”

The Tommyknockers

A Song of Ice and Fire

Lies of Locke Lamora

Harry Potter

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  1. Bryony

    The book within a book confuses me too. It’s a bit like the acts in a play, but I don’t get those either when it goes over two. I used to think the acts were for giving intervals, but some have 5 acts which is too many intervals.

  2. ben_

    Great Title for a Podcast-Episode! Gave me the first laugh on a monday morning! Thanks!

  3. Elias

    Why stop there? What good are periods? Question marks? Punctuation in total? Spaces even? Why not string our little words together willy nilly and Willie Nelson and leave the reader to figure it all out?

    • A Perspiring Writer

      Did you mean: Ulysses?

      (Seriously the last chapter of that book has like two bits of punctuation like what)

  4. Meri

    Re: the sections of books being called “book [X]” – I kind of wonder if in fantasy it’s people trying to emulate Tolkien. Lord of the Rings of course is divided into multiple books within each volume, for reasons mostly relating to Tolkien being a giant nerd. But then most times I’ve seen Book [X] in other fiction its just in place of calling it “Part [X]”, and feels like it’s mostly a stylistic thing. I can’t think of any examples where it’s used as a higher classification order with like book > has parts > has chapters.

  5. Robin

    Regarding Terry Pratchett’s absurd chapter headings: he’s copying an old way of labelling chapters where you did begin with a very quick, almost bullet point preview of what’s going to happen in the chapter. It’s a choice made specifically for the Moist Von Lipwig books. I’ve never been quite sure why he chose to do something like that for those, but he was a god of literature, so it must be right.

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