Write Better Fiction: Do Scenes Per Chapter Matter?

Today on Write Better Fiction we’ll cover Scenes Per Chapter. Write Better Fiction is a process to help you critique your own manuscript and give yourself feedback. This will help you improve your novel, so you’re ready to submit it to an editor.

Last week we talked about the number of words in a scene. Today, I’m going to share how I look at the number of scenes in a chapter.

A scene or several scenes will make up a chapter. The Scenes Per Chapter report will illustrate the structure of your novel based on scenes in each chapter.

An author has two choices. Every chapter can have the same number of scenes, or the number of scenes per chapter varies throughout the novel.

A similar number of scenes per chapter: An author may choose to write chapters composed of exactly the same number of scenes or a similar number of scenes. They create a novel in this format, then they acquire readers, and the readers come to expect the structure throughout the novel. It might be risky for the author to change once they have established a following for their style.

Variable Number of Scenes Per Chapter: You must at least have one scene per chapter. It may only be one word or one sentence but it still counts as a scene. The upper limit is endless.

Potential pitfalls with the number of scenes per chapter:

One chapter with a greater number of scenes than the others: When the reader gets to this scene, he is going to wonder why so much time has been allocated to the scene. Either the author didn’t notice one scene was way too long, or he did on purpose because something very important is happening in the scene.

Switching Structure Mid-Novel: Even if the reader doesn’t register the number of scenes per chapter consciously, they may be jarred out of reading if the first half of the novel is written with the same number of scenes per chapter, and then the number changes. If you choose to have the same number of scenes per chapter, then remain consistent throughout the novel.

You won’t be surprised that I use my spreadsheet to count scenes per chapter and I look for anything that stands out as unusual. I ask myself why I wrote the chapter this way. Below is an example.

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 5.06.19 PM

 

In the above graph, you can see that chapter 3 is very different from the other chapters in the novel. In this case, I would consider breaking chapter 3 into two or more chapters.

The first and last chapters are very few scenes. The first chapter has only one scene. I did this because I want the reader engaged quickly and this helps keep the pace fast. I sometimes end a novel with only one scene in the final chapter. This is the chapter that comes after the climax, so I want to close things up but I don’t want the story to drag on.

As with word count per scene, this type of analysis is done when an author has finished the first draft. It’s a bird’s eye view of the structure and allows me to check the pacing and flow of my story.

I critiqued DESCENT, BLAZE and AVALANCHE using the techniques I’m sharing in Write Better Fiction, and I believe this helped me sign with a publisher.

Please let me know in the comments below if you examine your scenes per chapter and why you do this?

Thanks for reading…

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4 thoughts on “Write Better Fiction: Do Scenes Per Chapter Matter?

  1. Having just finished Blaze – review follows in my weekly post – I can see how well your structuring works. In fact, I’ve applying your Word Count post to my current first draft; it saved me having one odd, massive chapter. Think I vary number of scenes in chapters, but might have to check that as well. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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