Why Do Novels Have Chapters?

Novels have chapters for the exact same reason that potato chips were invented.

As human beings we face an awful lot of stimulation. Existence will throw typhoons and bankruptcy and plague and global warming – without even pausing to wipe the sweat from it’s all-seeing eye.

Catastrophe will rain down upon you with the intensity of a jackhammer game of whack-a-mole.

Chapters – like potato chips – help us break down something wonderful – into comfortable bite-sized pieces.

It happened something like this.

Leo Tolstoy – (known as Leo the Lion to all of his peeps) – sat down one morning and decided to write the entire Napoleonic invasion of Russia detailing the impact of Bonaparte’s era on Tsarist society. Only problem was – the man was a little short on money – so, to conserve his supply of scribbling paper (look, they hadn’t invented the keyboard yet) – he wrote the whole thing out without a single break.

It was an intensive experience.

He went through two marriages, six bankruptcies, one typhoon, and a bout of stuck-burp – (you know – when you’ve got a burp stuck halfway between your stomach and your belly button and it won’t let out?) – while he wrote this epic hernia of a novel.

“Leo,” his editor said. “Have you ever heard of something called a chapter?”

“Ach!” Leo said, on account of he had mysteriously developed a German accent while writing the Prussian parts of his novel. “Why didn’t I think of that.”

“Try a few of these potato chips,” Leo’s editor said. “They go awesome with beer.”

So you see – chapters were invented so that men could drink beer.


Yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon

10 responses to “Why Do Novels Have Chapters?

  1. I’m a big Pratchett fan but I confess to having trouble with his last book ( before The Long Earth) because it had no chapters. No place to leave a bookmark at night !


    • Yup – all kidding aside, I’m a big chapter fan. I like them crunchy and bite-sized. Sometimes all I have is a few minutes to read and it just feels good to run through another chapter and slip that book mark in and feel satisfied.


  2. I seldom read by chapters. I’m always stuck in the middle of one. I had never thought of not using them though. Interesting. Although I have written short stories as long as 12,000 words with no chapters, just scene changes ( * ~ * ).

    The question then is: How long does a book need to be before we start thinking about using chapters?


  3. Never mind chapters, I once picked up a book in my library that didn’t even have paragraphs! I put it straight back down again.


    • Yup. Sometimes writers just try TOO hard to be “different”. A leftover from dadaism, I’m afraid.

      Chapters, to me, are like breaths that you take between the action.

      (ya-ya, I know I already said they’re like potato chips, my metaphors are ALWAYS works-in-progress)


  4. Chapters and white space. These work for me.
    Also love chips.
    Not to be mistaken as bookmarks.
    Waste of good snack food.


  5. What did chapters give women if it gave men beer? Steve’s weird science. 🙂


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