Why Do Books Have Chapters?


I often wonder why authors break books into chapters. I’ve yet to come across a book written exclusively in prose with no chapter outline. Even those without chapter breakers have an asterisk at the bottom of the page to signify transition. 

Books have chapters to increase decipherability and accord the piece a conventional structure. Additionally, chapters serve to regulate how an author presents their story by using it as a tool to build suspense. Also, they, to some extent, set out a reader’s pace by affording opportune halt points. 

In this article, I’ll explain why books have chapters and whether or not you need them. I’ll also discuss the number of chapters to include in a book and the ideal length of a chapter. 

Can You Write a Book Without Chapters?

You can write a book without chapters as demonstrated by a few authors, including Ava Dellaira, in her book Love Letters to the Dead. However, this style of presenting an author’s thoughts has proved unpopular among readers.

If you’re interested, check out Love Letters to the Dead (available on Amazon.com) to see for yourself how Dellaira managed to do a complete piece of literature without a single chapter.

Why You Need Chapters in a Book

Chapters are an excellent tool for an author to incorporate different scenes in their piece. Creating chapters allows an author to easily switch from one theme to another. Additionally, writers can present different moods and emotions, such as tension, prompting readers to read on to ultimately find out what happens. 

Furthermore, chapters mark a significant shift from one scene to another in a book. They allow the reader to progressively internalize movement from one scene or theme to another. Generally speaking, chapters help readers build on the story as it progresses. 

Why Books Without Chapters Are Unpopular

Books without chapters can be chaotic and unpleasant to a reader. The topics become vague and obscure, slowly killing the reader’s morale of reading the book. Chapters aid in interpreting and understanding a book, making them intriguing; without those breakdowns, reading can become cumbersome. 

Books that don’t have chapter markers can also give the reader a sense of stagnation. In some cases, readers may feel they’re not making any progress in the book for a while, which could be demoralizing, especially to beginners trying to incorporate their lives into the reading culture.

On top of this, books without chapters don’t make it easy for readers to remember where they halted the last time they were reading the piece. Unless you have a bookmark, it can be difficult to find the scene you last read.

Number of Chapters in a Book

There is no set maximum to how many chapters should be in a book, yet most novels have between 10 and 12 chapters. Nonetheless, a trend has been witnessed among authors over time. For instance, it’s common practice for most non-fiction books to have between 5 and 20 chapters. 

As an author, you may resolve to maintain these conventional ways, although it’s not set in stone. You can always make a few adjustments as long as you present your thoughts in the best format that is easily readable to your audience. 

In other words, the substance of your thoughts should prevail over form. An extra chapter doesn’t harm anyone as long as it’s relevant and adds to telling a story effectively. 

Keep in mind, as a writer, it’s important to exercise discretion when making such decisions. If needed, reach out and ask for a friend’s or fellow writer’s opinion on what the ideal number of chapters for your piece might be.

Length of a Chapter 

Just as the number of chapters in a book isn’t distinctly ruled out, neither is the length of a chapter. Yet, again, it’s up to the author’s discretion. Nevertheless, it’s advisable to maintain 3000-5000 words within chapters. This goes a long way to influence how readers skim through the chapters. 

Several things may define the length of your chapters. Below are some considerations when deciding how long your chapters are. 

The Audience

When targeting children, it’s prudent to have brief but concise chapters. This is because children have relatively low concentration and are likely to lose interest if a piece is too long. Owing to that, you may want to keep the chapter length in check. 

For teens and adults, 3000-5000 words can be managed. You can incorporate a wide array of chapters by choosing to have some long or short. Topics that interest a specific age group should cover more pages than those that don’t. 

Complexity of Ideas

Compounded ideas need to be explained in depth to be understood well. This, in turn, calls for lengthy chapters in a book. Therefore, it’s up to the author to present sufficient information while avoiding the risk accompanied by lengthy texts.

The Story

While it’s prudent to keep the previous two points in check, the story being told in the book surpasses these considerations. Thus, it’s wise to unveil the thoughts and events as they flow, even if it means doing so at the expense of the ‘set out’ word count. 

It would be pointless to achieve the word count but fail to present occurrences and concepts properly.  Break free from baseless requirements holding you back from telling your story how you know best. It’s a matter of quality over quantity. Pay extra attention to the content over format, and you’ll be more successful. 

Conclusion

Chapters play a pivotal role in books. They’re an effective tool in how the author presents ideas and concepts in a book to the reader. Furthermore, books that are broken down into chapters are more digestible for an average reader.

It’s crucial for writers to know how to structure chapters as far as their length and the gross number are concerned. While considering the target audience, complexity of ideas, and the story, an author can arbitrarily decide the best fit of words in a chapter. 

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