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How Many Scenes in a Chapter? And How do You Evaluate it?

Scenes per Chapter

How many scenes in a chapter is the right number?

And why is that number important?

A scene or several scenes will make up a chapter. The Scenes per Chapter insight in Fictionary automatically illustrates the structure of the novel based on the number of scenes in each chapter.

An author has two choices. Every chapter can have the same number of scenes, or the number of scenes can vary per chapter throughout the novel.

Structure of a Chapter and Pacing

You can use the structure of each chapter to control the pacing of your story.

The longer a chapter, the slower the pacing.

The shorter a chapter, the faster the pacing.

A Similar Number of Scenes per Chapter: An author may choose to write chapters composed of the same number of scenes or a similar number of scenes. She creates a novel in this format, she acquire readers, and the readers come to expect the structure throughout the novel. It might be risky for her to change once she has established a following for her style.

Variable Number of Scenes Per Chapter: You must have at least one scene per chapter. It may only be one word or one sentence, but it still counts as a scene. The upper limit is endless. Sort of…

Potential pitfalls 

Too Many Scenes

Suppose there exists one chapter with a greater number of scenes than the others. When the reader gets to this chapter, he’s going to wonder why the writer allocated so much time to the chapter. Either the writer didn’t notice one chapter was way too long, or she did it on purpose because something very important was happening in the scene.

Here’s an example of the Scenes Per Chapter insight shown in Fictionary. The insight draws within seconds of the manuscript being imported. As an editor, it’s one of the first insights I review. It tells me if the writer has control of the structure of the story and where to look for problems if the pacing isn’t right.


Scenes Per Chapter Fictionary

The number of scenes per chapter varied quite a bit in the novel shown above. The Scenes per Chapter insight in Fictionary shows the minimum number of scenes in a chapter is 1, and the maximum number of scenes in a chapter is 24. That’s a big range.

Here’s what the reader experiences. The chapters move along quickly, and then they reach chapter 5.  It goes on so long the reader has forgotten what happened in chapters 1 to 4. In this case the problem was made worse because chapter 5 was also written from a new character’s point of view which made it seem like a new story had started. By the time, the reader gets back to the original story line, they are no longer invested in the story.

Switching Structure of a Chapter Mid-Novel

Even if the reader doesn’t register the number of scenes per chapter consciously, she may be jarred out of reading if the first half of the novel is written with the same number of scenes per chapter, and then the number changes. If you choose to have the same number of scenes per chapter, then remain consistent throughout the novel.

In this example, the last quarter of the novel contains one scene per chapter versus the first three quarters where the number varied. This made the ending feel rushed.

Scene Per Chapter (not balanced)

Word Count per Scene

You can also Evaluate the Pacing of Your Novel Using Word Count per Scene.

Fictionary StoryTeller also draws the Word Count per Scene within seconds of importing a manuscript. As an editor, I evaluate this early the editing process.

The Word Count per Scene insight lets you quickly visualize the pacing. Instead of going through the tedious exercise of listing your word count per scene in a spreadsheet, you can see the information within seconds in StoryTeller on the Visualize page.
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