Structuring a big book

As a reader, you probably don’t pay much attention to the bones of a book — the number of chapters it has or how many sections they fall into. For a writer, of course, these can be central considerations. Ideally, there’s a beginning, middle, and end for each chapter and each section as well as the entire book itself.

In my psyche, one ideal structure is the symphony — typically, but not always, four movements, each one different, having an underlying unity that ends in an exciting climax. (Oh, there are some gems that do end quietly — so much for expectations!) A typical novel, on the other hand, may be twenty to thirty chapters of roughly 20 pages apiece running in chronological order, not that I’ve ever stuck with that convention.

In What’s Left, my novel I set out hoping you could start or end in any chapter, yet in some way they’d join to build the tension and resolution of the whole. The model that inspired me appeared to use chapters as mosaics or panels that could be moved around independently, if the reader desired.

I can’t quite see doing that in the final version my work, though a reader might leap over a chapter or two, if needed, and still pick up on some action — if, that is, the chapters are complete enough in their own right. Think of a string of short stories.


If you’ve had a chance to read What’s Left, give me your feedback.

Does this structure work for you? Would you rather I’d broken the novel out into two, three, or four shorter books as a series? Did you skip over any parts? Would rearranging any parts work better? 


In my novel, the family’s upgraded Carmichael’s restaurant could have emerged like this one in London. Instead, they took a bolder direction, even if a Greek menu wasn’t a viable option where they were.

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