Scenes Versus Chapters
Every novel is broken down into chapters, with each chapter containing one or more scenes that propel the action forward or build characterization. What's the difference between the two? For some writers in today's market … not very much. Many successful romance novelists write short chapters, some only as long as a few paragraphs. But there is a difference between scenes and chapters.
Think of your novel as a photograph album that details your recent vacation to the Rocky Mountains. The album contains 20 pages, with each page holding eight pictures (front and back.) In this analogy, the pages of the album are chapters; the photos on each of the pages are a scene. Together, the scenes and chapters tell the story of your vacation.
A scene describes one snapshot — this means the action of a scene usually takes place in a single location and over a specific space of time, although that isn't always the case. Scenes will have one or more of the following components:
Dialogue: The characters will talk to each other.
Narrative: This provides information that the reader needs to know about the current scene, such as a character's thoughts, but it doesn't interrupt the action.
Action: Something will happen.
Description of setting: This is filtered through the character's point of view.
Transition: This announces a movement through time or space.
Exposition: This provides information that the reader needs to know about previous events, such as backstory, which is a recapping of prior events, but it does not stop the action.
Scenes should begin — and end — with a hook, something that encourages the reader to keep reading. Usually, a scene is told through the point of view (POV) of a single character, although some writers can successfully combine several POVs in a single scene.
The length of your scene dictates the pacing of your novel. Shorter scenes speed up pacing while longer scenes slow it down. Generally, most scenes run three to ten pages in length, with the average around four to five pages.
Ideally, each scene should lead into the next scene, much the way that one snapshot from a family vacation in the photo album leads to the next in sequence. That's not to say, however, that scenes must follow each other in chronological order. They don't. All that is necessary is that the scenes follow in a logical fashion that best tells the story.
When two or more scenes exist in a chapter, you should separate them by one of the following methods:
A blank line with a pound sign (#), centered, either singly or in a group
A blank line with an asterisk (*), centered, either singly or in a group
A blank line with a dash (-), centered, either singly or in a group Four blank lines
To continue the photograph album analogy, a chapter contains one or more snapshots, or scenes, that describe a series of events grouped together with a common theme. For example, a chapter might contain two scenes, one from the heroine's POV and one from the hero's POV.
The first scene, in the heroine's point of view, might deal with a discussion of the subplot, while she fights against her attraction for the hero. The second scene in the hero's POV, several hours later, would continue the thread of the subplot and end with him kissing the heroine.
There is no standard length for a chapter in the romance genre, although some publishers may have a house style that dictates their preferred length, especially for some of the category lines. Generally, chapters can be as long — or as short — as an author wants them to be. On average, they run around 12 to 18 manuscript pages.
Much like scenes, chapters must open and end with a hook, although the need to end with a hook is more critical for a chapter, since that is the point where most people will put down a book. Editors expect — and readers demand — a reason to keep reading.
An easy way to make sure your chapter ends on the right note is to stop in the middle of an action scene. Make the reader wonder what will happen next. Make them feel they have no choice but to turn the next page of your book.