Book Chapter – The Beginner Guide To Novel Structure

Book Chapter - Novel Structure

Writing a book chapter seems easy until we start thinking about its structure, length, meaning and overall purpose in the book.

This post is for beginners who are just starting to develop their first ideas. Any authors who successfully wrote a book might have different methods – I’d be happy to hear about them.

When you get an idea for a novel it seems easy to develop it but once you start working on it, it turns into a jungle, a mess. You might find yourself trying to figure out how simple things work or trying to find explanations for some complex scenes you want to write but aren’t sure how they really fit in.

When plotting your novel you decide on where the hits are (emotional hits, twists, etc), but to make some order in all of it, you should spend some more time developing the structure, the plot and the story-lines.

Word Count

I have a word-count method I use when writing stories and novels (helps more with novels). It is only ever meant to serve me as a guideline to where I am going.

To make something out of the mess in the author’s head, there are a few tips that will surely help looking at upcoming novels in a way that is less confusing.

First thing you must do is have a length in mind (note, length is measured in words, not pages – pages vary too much). To help you get an idea of how long your novel should be, use the link above.

Now that you’ve decided on the length of your novel and have your rough outline, it’s time to divide your novel into chapters. Chapters are parts of a novel that function like gears – every chapters brings a little bit so that the whole thing can work. Chapters are never just thrown in – more often they get thrown out if the whole thing can work without them.

Have an approximate length decided for every chapter. I divide the number of words with the number of words I intend to have in each chapter (stay with me, it changes greatly afterwards) and that gives me the number of chapters. Say I want to write a fantasy novel of 100,000 words with every chapter at c. 2000 words – I get the space of 50 chapters. That’s an approximate number I work with.

Bear in mind, not every chapter is the same length – it’s not the 19th century. This calculation will dramatically change when you start describing your chapters.

Book Chapter

Every chapter is a special story in one way or another. A chapter is either a series of scenes that go one after another in a logical order or it’s a perspective of a character in a scene. When the perspective changes so does the chapter.

Quick tip: keep your chapters short in a sense that you ELLE (I just used it as a verb) (enter late, leave early). So, start your chapter with action, leave explanations for later. Alternatively, make them a logical conclusion from previous events, and exit on a cliffhanger.

Now that you’ve done all of that, look over your plot and describe chapters one by one. While doing this you’ll see that those 50 chapters are too much/not enough to tell the story. You’ll know how many words you’ll need to set up the events when you start describing chapters. The whole math of writing your novel is done – it will be smooth sailing from there.

Don’t hold back while describing chapters. If you get inspired, write a scene from the chapter you’re describing. If it still works when you start writing the novel, leave it in.

It all gets polished nicely after you finish your first draft. You’ll do some cutting and adding again and again until you realize your novel is done.

So don’t give up, keep working and keep writing!

Author: Mladen Reljanović

Mladen Reljanović is the founder and lead writer at Writer to Writers. He is the author of Oaktown stories, senior student of communication and a pianist.

18 thoughts on “Book Chapter – The Beginner Guide To Novel Structure

  1. I typically do something similar, marking in my head how long I want each chapter. But in my newest novel, Blood Drive, I’ve been using random lengths and numbers to keep the pace between four characters random. I think it worked well for this story, but it’s not best for most. My next planned work is set for around 2k a chapter, 25 chapters.

    1. That’s great. I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything if I don’t have some kind of a spreadsheet in front of me 😀

    2. I usually do to, but this story in particular warranted going off outline quite a bit. It was supposed to be a 30k word novella, and it’s nearing 50k right now.

    3. That’s awesome, as long as the quality doesn’t pay for quantity – but with your skills I’m sure that’s not the case. I liked your style from what I read on your blog (among the published novels).
      I’d love to be more daring but that won’t be happening soon 😀

    4. The quality is there I think. It’s still rough, the final draft due by October. I just need to write the ending and have my beta reader take a stab at it.

  2. Hi, thanks a lot for your post. I have ideas and I’ve outlined my plot. I’ve written the prologue but I don’t know how to start the first chapter. What do I do? Also, I’m so busy with family and work commitments that I’ve not written anything since after the prologue. Thinking of putting off writing it till I find more time. What’s your take on it? Thanks

    1. Hi, I understand that many people can’t find time for writing but in my opinion you shouldn’t put it off – it becomes a habit. I did that with non-fiction papers I was writing and I had a lot of trouble when they were due. I would suggest you pick at least 4-5 days a week and decide to write only 10 minutes. That’s not too much so you’d wish to put it off, but the beauty is when you start writing you won’t want to stop that quickly. Even if you write for just ten minutes a day you’ll make a habit out of it within two weeks and you’ll increase the time you spend writing. I promise, you’ll still have time for family and work.
      As for the first chapter – no one says you need to start at the beginning. If you have outlined your novel in detail, if you have described all the chapters and know where your story is going, sit down today and pick your favorite scene – write that one! You’ll soon see that depending on your mood, you’ll want to write different scenes and you’ll be much more productive in that manner.
      Don’t worry if it doesn’t sound good. That’s just your first draft, it will be changed anyway. The name of the game is writing daily. And only when you’re done writing it you can start worrying about how it looks and if it is good.
      If there’s anything else, just ask.
      Good luck 🙂

    1. Hey Walt, I’ll have to disappoint you on that one. Poetry was never my strong side – I admire at from afar. But, we do have a lot of contributors here (including you) who know more than me and we’ll probably see that subject sooner or later 🙂

    1. That’s a good point. I assume everyone is taking ELLE into practice. Even we, the authors, see that there is no time to waste. So, chapters get shorter and shorter because readers don’t have the time to read lengthy descriptions and unimportant subplots.

What are your thoughts on this?