Chapter vs. Section Break

Wayne Mack

Well-Known Member
Sep 12, 2020
Chantilly, Virginia, US
Are there any rules of thumb on when to use a new chapter and when to continue with a section break?

In my specific situation, I have a 2 page intro chapter followed by a chapter introducing a different location and characters. Due to brevity, should I combine the chapters? Due to different locations, should I keep separate chapters?
Are the two chapters related in some way? (For instance, the two sets of characters might be discussing the same problem, or be talking about each other. Or they might occur during roughly the same time frame. Or ...?) If that is the case, then it might make sense to combine them. Otherwise, there is probably no reason not to keep them separate.

Trust your own intuition. If you feel they belong in the same chapter then they probably do. If the only concern is chapter length, I wouldn't worry about it if I were you.
I find it boils down to a number of things.
The first and foremost is the old notion of a chapter beginning at the beginning of a scene and ending at the end of a scene.
However this is more a loose guideline than a rule and the exceptions crop up quickly when you start hammering out the scene.

When dealing with close third and more specifically first person--it can be tiring to try to cover the scene continuously, because there are just some things within the character's thoughts and actions that begin to grind the story to dust if you try to follow them throughout the entire narrative. That is to say that you will find yourself jumping forward from one active scene to the next because the whole plot is not some rollercoaster ride from front page to last page(well, not always)i.e.; you don't need to follow them into the bathroom or loo and to their meals and sleep time or sometimes not even the ride to get to the other active scene[although I seem to recall a Sinclair Lewis novel where he used the travel time to do backstory while his character reflected on recent events and taking himself into past events.] If you started making all your scene breaks into new chapters you'd likely end up with hundreds of small chapters.

You could look at a chapter as something that begins a specific action or set of actions that will come to some conclusion--of some sort--by the end of the chapter. Then you might or might not break into several scenes to get there so that the series of scene breaks make up their own contiguous scene. This leads to some sort of conclusion and then the beginning of a new chapter. However I've seen plenty of novels where the conclusion ends up being a cliffhanger of sorts.

No matter how it works out; one thing I try to do is begin the next chapter the same as I begin the novel. Starting with something that is framed in a way that will draw the reader into the story.

Then in the case of multiple scenes that make one chapter; start each scene as though the reader just took a quick break, coffee, ice-crème, or some such, and you need to get them invested into the story again.

In short, a chapter should be short enough that the reader doesn't wet their selves trying to finish it and yet long enough they don't start thinking about wandering around the house.

The real answer though, is, a chapter is as long as it needs to be and as many scenes as it takes to get it there.
I like to use section breaks when characters are doing something similar at the same time but in different locations. This is to help the reader understand the events are simultaneous and connected.
I like to use section breaks when characters are doing something similar at the same time but in different locations. This is to help the reader understand the events are simultaneous and connected.

I've often stated, "I never use scene/section breaks. My chapters are a singular subject/course of events, from a single character viewpoint."

Funny how that word never works... :cautious:

I've been struggling with rewording a lead-in and lead-out chapters flanking an intense chapter, where the deuteragonist gets the bulk of the first with roughly 3 ending paragraphs from the protagonists viewpoint. The middle chapter is purely protagonist, and the final chapter the protag gets the bulk, with the deuteragonist and unnamed masses getting the final say over three/four paragraphs.

Simultaneously like @K.S. Crooks mentions. Just this morning I decided to circular file those viewpoint shift edits, and turn the word 'never' into 'usually.'

Now I have to figure out some clever section break image. :confused:

So, considering my post above, I'm wondering if I really need to add a section break?

I make the PoV shifts (between characters) abundantly clear. More so, I tend to make the close/limited-3rd PoV of the initial character shift to a relaxed-3rd closer to narration than anything.

So why should I add the break when it's so obvious?

If you want to do the minimum; I'd suggest you indent all paragraphs except the first in each section that way you have the least intrusive indicator of a new section.

This is the first paragraph.
>> This is the next.
>>And next.
--------(you could even leave a blank line here)
New section paragraph.
>> next.
New section.
For my particular issue, I went with the advice from @Teresa Edgerton and kept the text as a separate chapter even though it was short. I felt the opening flow of the first four chapters of "Location 1, Location 2, Location 1, Location 2" provided a good framework for the reader.
I've used--variously--
all centered.
looks best.
The reason I put anything in is because if you have three line feeds for a scene break--the kindle converter usually tuncates that to one and sometimes the line feed disappears all-together.


seems to make the illusion of three line feeds show up most if not all of the time.

Then I do the bit with the no indent on first paragraph.

AND DO ALL CAPS on the first 4 words for chapters.
THREE WORDS FOR the scene breaks.

That seems to work well for the printed edition.