Every new writer typically has many questions on how to structure and write a book, and one that comes up is whether having chapters is a must or whether you can write a book without chapters?
Although not typical, you can absolutely write a book without chapters. There is no rule saying you have to have chapters or how many. Chapters are used for multiple reasons, readability or easy breakpoint for the user as an example, and it is up to you as a writer if these make sense for you.
Can I write a book without chapters?
As you sit down to write a book, you have the artistic freedom to create whatever you want. This includes exactly how you want to present your story. Scenes and chapters are generally combined in a typical book to help break up the story and allow the writer to arrange the flow as they want the reader to experience it.
However, this means you, as the writer, have the flexibility to ignore conventional chapters if you so wish and not use them at all if you prefer. This is part of the skill of storytelling.
Having a book without chapters, although not typical, has been done many times by authors such as Terry Pratchett, who wrote books his books with few if any chapters and Dune by Frank Herbert, which does not have any chapters either. They use other separators between story sections.
If you are just starting to write a novel, you may be asking, particularly if you are a beginner, because you are unsure how to establish where to finish one chapter and start the next. The good news is that you have the flexibility to write the whole first draft of the manuscript with no chapters.
This then gives you the freedom to write scenes as needed and follow the flow of the story without worrying about where to put arbitrary chapters. Later, during the editing phase, when you typically make large structural changes, you will find it easier to figure out if your book would work better with or without chapters and add them if you see fit.
Why Not Use Chapters?
There are various reasons you may decide not to use chapters. Some people perceive not having chapters as somehow giving a book a more literary or serious tone, but many lighthearted and funny books have been written without chapters. Once again, Terry Pratchett is a good example.
The type of book you are writing may point you towards one style or the other. Maybe the writing style you are writing just works better in a long continuous flowing story style rather than being broken up. So you should base your decision on only how it works for your story, not due to any outside perceived rules.
Part of the style of your book is the pacing of the story. Writing a book with no chapters may enable you to slow down more easily or speed up the pacing of your book. Writing without chapters can allow you to use very long or very short scenes to help manage the pacing.
Reader Like Chapters
When building a chapter, a writer will typically put a few scenes that logically belong together in a chapter. They often end the chapter on a cliffhanger to entice the reader to continue. If you’re not going to use chapters, you will generally use some kind of separator periodically to indicate a change in the narrative.
Another thing to keep in mind is that readers like chapters because they create an excellent logical stopping point when it’s time for bed or work. So again, if you do not use a typical chapter format, then provide some kind of separator for the benefit of the reader.
The critical decision to use chapters is obviously how you want to write your story, but it is essential to keep the reader at least somewhat in mind so you don’t put them off, particularly if you want to be a repeat buyer.
Let’s review a few pros and cons of not using chapters in your book.
Pros of Not Using Chapter
- Control the flow: No chapters allow a flowing novel to fit your style.
- When writing the book, you do not need to worry about figuring out arbitrary stopping points. You can just write as the story takes you and just find natural breaks in the narrative as you go.
- It can be somewhat uncomfortable for readers to have very long chapters. Unfortunately, sometimes when writing, it can be challenging to fit a chapter break into a, particularly long scene. Writing without having chapters avoids this, and again, you just go with a natural break.
Cons of Not Using Chapters
- Chapters break the story into more accessible to absorb pieces for the reader.
- They give readers a convenient place to stop. Lots of readers like this so they can read just one more chapter before real-life pulls them back to the next task.
- Enables you to clearly signal a change in character focus, story theme. IT can be easier to create and build tension with chapters as it is more familiar.
- Clearly indicate a change of POV to the reader. There are other ways to do this, but this is easy and is familiar and comfortable to users.
How Many Chapters Do You Need?
If you are going to include chapters, the typical question is how many do you have to have. There is no minimum or maximum number of chapters you need to include in any particular book. There are plenty of books with just a few very long chapters and equally as many that have many short chapters.
This is often dictated by the genre of the book. A fast-paced detective fiction novel might use many short chapters to keep the story moving quickly in a high energy style, whereas a book that is a long-flowing narrative may have much more leisurely, longer chapters that fit the style.
You can achieve the same by using scenes within your book instead of chapters. Instead of grouping some scenes together into an arbitrary chapter, you can just use a small separator and just have longer or shorter scenes as you need.
There is no predetermined recipe for building your book, as you likely already know. This is equally true for chapters. If they work for you and help, they enhance the narrative, use them, but if you believe your work is better without them, you don’t need to bother.