Scene vs Chapter

Scene or sequel? It looks like a sequel to me.
Photo by Gabriel Barreto on

I’ve been working on Air Stream lately, writing from my Save the Cat scene outline. I’ve noticed that what I have listed as a scene in my outline only rarely corresponds to a chapter in my draft. Because of this, I’ve been reading up on what a scene is vs what a chapter is. Here is what I’ve found.

A Scene

Is a set building block.

In a scene, the character has a goal, attempts to achieve it, encounters an obstacle, and fails to meet the goal. Some people consider what comes next another type of scene, called the sequel. Others consider the sequel the part of every scene. In the sequel, the character reacts to the failure, figures out what the failure means for the story goal, and sets a new immediate goal.

Sequels do not have to be equal in length to the scene. In fact, some sequels are only a few words or lines. A character who is trying to sneak into a locked room has only moments to react when they hear someone coming. Oh no, I need to hide!

Etc. This pattern continues until you reach THE END.

A Chapter

Manages the pacing of the story. Long, languid chapters slow things down. Short chapters speed things up. Think about how quickly a novel-in-verse told moves.

Should end at a place that will make the reader want to turn the page and keep reading. Me? I favor cliff hanger endings. “What happens next?” As explained by K.M. Weiland, she breaks her chapter after the character’s failure to meet their goal and and before the sequel. The sequel then opens up the next chapter. The sequel is thus used to re-hook the reader again and again at the beginnig of every chapter.

The opening of a chapter can serve as a transition showing the passage of time. This is especially true in the final chapter that serves as an epilogue.

In a book with multiple point-of-view (POV) characters, a new chapter can mark the transition from one POV character to the other.

Am I doing it all correctly? Probably not. I’ve got a good sense of where to break a chapter (cliff hanger!) and I love the play of scene vs sequel. I’ve been instinctively breaking my chapters between the scene and the sequel.

None of this means that my pacing is 100% and that I won’t find one or more areas that need serious improvement. But I’m glad I took a look at this.

Now, back to chapter scene 6/chapter 4. I’ve got many chapters and scenes yet to go!