How to Create Effective Scenes and Chapters in Your Novel

creating scenes and chapters

Creating scenes and chapters.

About the Author: Idrees Patel is a 13-year-old blogging about creative writing tips at Writers’ Treasure. Check out his free series, Creative Writing 101, a beginner’s guide to creative writing.

Fiction writing is one of the most popular forms of creative writing. Everyone is trying to write some fiction, — novels, short stories, novelettes, novellas, micro-fiction, and even Twitter fiction. Events like NaNoWriMo are becoming wildly popular. More and more novels are written every month.


But out of all the average work, how do you make your novel stand out?

You know the answer, of course. By making it your own and as perfect as possible. A novel can be made as perfect as possible by learning the art of fiction writing and then editing like mad.

Editing is tough work. Any writer can edit a 500-word blog post, but some freak out at the thought of editing an entire novel. It’s tough. Many writers even think it’s impossible to edit something like that, especially those who enjoy the writing but don’t like revisions.

But editing and proofreading are essential and will come more easily if you know good grammar, spelling, and punctuation. If you understand concepts like structure and plot holes, editing will be even smoother.  And if you have knowledge of various fiction writing elements, that’s just awesome.

But there’s one more little trick that will help writers edit novels more easily: create scenes and chapters. If you create effective scenes and chapters in your first draft, you’ll be well on your way to better editing.

First off, what are scenes and chapters?

What are Scenes?

I’ll just let Wikipedia give you the definition here:

“In fiction, a scene is a unit of drama. A sequel is what follows; an aftermath. Together, scene and sequel provide the building blocks of plot for short stories, novels, and other forms of fiction.”

Scenes are indispensable when writing a novel. A novel is lengthy, about 80,000-130,000 words. Scenes are usually only 400-500 words long. You can easily edit a scene rather than editing the whole manuscript at once, which makes editing more manageable. During the editing process, you can check for structure, flow, characters, and plot holes. You can also break up one scene into two or more scenes if you want the editing process even more simplified. Don’t worry about making your scenes too short because you can always make them one again when the work is done. Easy.

Scenes in plays are similar to scenes in novels. If you write a short section in which something significant happens in a single setting, then it is a scene. The scene directly affects what happens later. “What happens later” is the sequel. Here is a good article on how to write perfect scenes.

What are Chapters?

From Wikipedia:

“A chapter is one of the main divisions of a piece of writing of relative length, such as a book. Chapters can be numbered in the case of such writings as law code (like Chapter 7 or Chapter 11) or they can be titled.”

A chapter is usually made up of two or more scenes, although sometimes there is just one scene in a chapter. Chapters that have one scene are usually short, although that won’t be the case if the scene itself is long or elaborate.

Chapters can be short, although if you make them too short and have too many of them, they may become less effective. Extremely long chapters, on the other hand, can be cumbersome. Experiment with caution.

The length of the chapter may depend on the audience for whom the novel is written. Children’s books have short chapters whereas adult books have (mostly) long chapters.

How do you effectively create chapters in a novel? It depends. In adventure and mystery novels, some people like to end chapters on cliff-hangers: this is a popular technique. However, the bottom line is that you should end chapters whenever you feel a major shift in the story, whether it be a change in point of view, a new scene, or a sequel.

Short chapters are easy to write. As mentioned, they often consist of a single scene and therefore rarely become boring or complicated. Long chapters can be dull if not executed properly. As you write your novel, try to strike a balance so that each chapter is interesting to the reader.

Chapters make ideal blocks of text for editing and proofreading for the same reason that scenes are indispensable. You can create separate document files for each chapter (or scene) to help you focus on smaller chunks of text. I’ve done this a few times, and it worked well for me. But then, in creative writing, there is no such thing such as one size fits all. Experiment with various techniques and test your results. :-)

Effective Fiction Writing

Remember that while writing the first draft of a novel, planning effective scenes and chapters will make editing much easier. By including scenes, chapters, and other shorter blocks of text in your fiction writing, you’ll be off to a great start with your novel or other long-term fiction writing project.

Have Your Say

What do you think? Did I miss anything? Do you agree that chapters and scenes are great for editing if you create them effectively? Disagree? Got something to say? Any fiction writing tips to add? Then it’s over to you to leave a comment below.

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Comments

18 Responses to “How to Create Effective Scenes and Chapters in Your Novel”

  1. Idrees Patel says:

    Thanks for letting me guest post here, Melissa. It was great fun to write this. Hope everyone enjoys it!

    • Thank you for sharing your ideas here at Writing Forward! I think these tips will be a great help to fiction writers who struggle with editing :)

    • Katelyn Shear says:

      Hey, I’m 12 almost 13 and I’m writing a book. Thanks for your ideas, hopefully they will help me. For anyone interested I use OpenOffice.org 3.3 for my writing. you can download the whole thing and never pay a single cent. I’ve tried AutoCrit but I didn’t like it. It really didn’t help me at all. Thanks again, Katie.

  2. Kay Tee says:

    My writing/editing secret is to use the AutoCrit Editing Wizard. It’s awesome at finding the weak areas in my manuscript.

  3. Kelvin Kao says:

    I am quite used to structure (such as acts, scenes, and shots in theater and film) that I have a hard time imagining writers working on a piece of work without them. Long works are definitely a lot more manageable when you can break it down to smaller pieces. I also find scenes and chapters to be convenient as a reader because I am not likely to read a book in one sitting (I’ve got to at least eat something in between, you know) and I would usually like to have thoughts and events wrapped up a little bit before I put it down. So, scenes and chapters are actually useful for both readers and writers.

    • Good point Kelvin! Scenes and chapters do benefit readers. I love to find a book that I want to read in one sitting but even if I’m pulling an all-nighter to finish a page-turner, chapters, scenes, and other breaks are good places for me to take a rest. A girl’s gotta eat!

      On the other hand, some chapters end with such sharp cliffhangers that I can’t stop even when I’m supposed to!

  4. Melissa,

    Did I read that intro right? 13 years old? So much wisdom and a great article at any age but at 13 just WOW!

    This is a very timely article for me as I am right smack in the middle of edits for my/our first novel. I can agree that scenes/chapters is the way to go to keep the editing fresh and easier. I also recommend taking eyeball breaks. I edit for a block of time and then force myself to put it down and walk away, switch projects for a bit and then come back to it again in a little while. It’s amazing what the eye can see again that it had started to glaze over.

    • I know, can you believe it? I wish I had half that much wisdom when I was 13. Eyeball breaks are excellent for anyone working at the computer for long stretches. One of my former bosses once gave a presentation on eyes, lighting, and general ergonomics. He said you really need to look away from the screen a few times each hour, even if you just lean back and close your eyes for a minute. Good luck with your novel Wendi!

  5. Cath Lawson says:

    Hi Idrees, I’m impressed by your knowledge on fiction writing. I wish I’d known a fraction of what you know at your age.

    Like you, I like to keep a seperate file for each chapter. It’s when I decide to move different scenes and chapters around that I confuse myself and I’ve actually lost a few chapters by getting myself in a mess.

    I did try some novel plotting software a few years ago but I just couldn’t get used to it.

  6. Eddie says:

    i’m also impressed by your obvious experience at such a young age, i wounder when you began writing.
    also i’m confused about chapters. you made it clear that they are bigger than scenes but what are they? if scenes are a change in time and/or location as it is in movies, then what are the chapters? that is, what diferentiates between the context of one chapter and the one that follows it as opposed to scenes?

    • Hopefully Idrees will let us know his exact thoughts on what designates chapters. In the meantime, I thought I’d pitch in my two cents. I think it really depends on the author and the story itself. Some chapters are based on chronology – a break in time. Others end on a cliffhanger, which entices readers back into the book (or keeps them reading from chapter to chapter). They may separate themes or characters. I’ve read books where each chapter is from a different character’s perspective, either via first- or third-person narrative. Mostly though, I think each chapter contains a major shift, a larger action that moves the story forward. The best way to master the rhythm of chapters is to simply read a lot of books. In the end, it really depends on the nature of the project.

      • Idrees Patel says:

        Sorry for the delay, Eddie. My internet connection was not working properly for a couple of days, so I’ve just seen this. In answer to your first question, I began writing about three years ago, when I was 10.

        In my opinion, a chapter usually is what you make of it. Do you have a scene? It is better to focus on scenes because they are basic and are a pleasant chunk to work on, rather than long, long chapters. You have the option of making one scene an entire chapter, or using two or more scenes and ending them at the appropriate point. You have the option of changing the time, location, point of view, or anything else. In the end, Melissa’s advice is perfect for anyone. Great advice, Melissa.

        Thanks for the comment,
        Idrees Patel

  7. Cherie Grace says:

    i am so excited for my first novel. I’ve started it few years ago but now I am brave enough to finish it. I’ve got lots of inspirations.. guys, i need you. please inspire me more. thank you

    • Just keep pecking away at it. I try to find things that inspire me and surround myself with them. Some of these things are little talismans (objects) that I keep on my writing desk; others are blogs, music, even TV shows and movies that give me great ideas. Pay attention to what ignites your creative spark and keep it handy! Writing Forward will be here for you!

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  1. [...] And for that you simply have to write, write, write and then edit like mad. Freak out at hearing the phrase “editing like mad”? But no, editing can be made easier with simple techniques. [...]

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