Understanding Scenes, Sequels, and Chapters

What is a scene?

A scene is a unit of story action, one of the building blocks in fiction writing. According to Jack M. Bickham, in Scene & Structure, How to Construct Fiction with Scene-by-Scene Flow, Logic and Readability, it has a fundamental pattern of:

  1. Statement of a goal
  2. Introduction and development of conflict
  3. Failure of the character to reach his goal, a tactical disaster

Common Purposes of a Scene:

  1. Advance the story by introducing a problem or making a problem worse.
  2. Show conflict between characters, between a character and nature, or a character and something in the world around him.
  3. Introduce a character.
  4. Develop a character.
  5. Create suspense to keep the reader’s interest.
  6. Give information the reader needs to know.
  7. Create atmosphere such as setting, weather, time, and mood.
  8. Develop the theme of the story further.

Length of a Scene:

  1. Exactly as long as it needs to be. A scene can be from a few paragraphs long to a few pages, or even an entire chapter.
  2. What is being focused on within the scene determines the length.
  3. A scene can involve more than one setting.

What is a sequel?

A sequel is what follows the unit of drama in a scene, the aftermath. According to Jack M. Bickham, in Scene & Structure, it is the special something that holds scenes together. It is a structural element that begins when a scene ends and can do the following:

  1. Help with in-depth characterization
  2. Give an analysis of motivation
  3. Explain character planning

Length of a Sequel:

  • As with a scene, it should be as long as it needs to be.

What is a chapter?

A chapter is a division within a book and can widely vary in length and content. It can be anywhere from one scene, to a scene-sequel-scene, to three or more scenes, or whatever fits the genre or storyline.

Common Details About Chapters:

  1. Each chapter should drive the story forward and always end at a point where the reader wants to turn the page.
  2. A good place to end a chapter is a change in viewpoint.
  3. A good place to end a chapter is at the moment of disaster ending a scene.
  4. A good place to end a chapter is in the middle of conflict.

Length of a Chapter:

  1. A chapter can be any length from one page to 20-25, possibly more but not recommended.
  2. Chapter length can depend on the publisher’s preferences, especially in romance. Publishers like Harlequin like as close to a precise number of printed pages, with chapters of a certain length. Always review a publisher’s guidelines and read or skim through a number of their books as examples for their preferences.
  3. Online publishers often very different standards and preferences. Again, review common books they have published.
  4. Common word lengths/chapter lengths for novellas: 25,000 words=6, 4,000 word chapters or 5, 5,000 word chapters; 30,000 words=6, 5,000 words chapters or 7, 4,000 word chapters
  5. Common word lengths/chapter lengths for novels: 50,000 words=13, 4,000 word chapters or 10, 5,000 word chapters; 60,000 words=15, 4,000 word chapters or 12, 5,000 word chapters; 80,000 words=20, 4,000 word chapters or 16, 5,000 word chapters

© 2010 Starla Kaye

The Smarts

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This website is the work of Starla Criser, an author who has published more than 50 stories, both traditionally and through self-publishing routes.