Is it just me or are chapters disappearing from novels? You can blame the modern world but I’m the kind of crazy cat who likes things to come in pieces. Not hearts, obviously, or some lovely vase you’ve ordered from P o’ K, but many other things, and especially me wordz. But don’t go thinking I’m some kind of Gen-Y maniac needing everything in my life to be downloadable or in tabloid form, I’m still talking about that very old, thoughtful, wonderfully-realised technology of the book.
Chapters seem to be disappearing out of the general fiction I read and being replaced by the text break. I love a text break; as an editor it’s a useful tool and as a part-time scribbler I know their appeal, but they seem to be invading our novels like rabbits pre-myxomatosis. I’m reading books where every 3 paragraphs there’s a text break signifying a switch in point-of-view, topic, plot, tone, or because, you know, the author likes how it looks. This kind of caper can lend a meandering sense to a story and though we can all do with a little winding stroll every now and then, to me, a meandering story often ends up feeling formless and without foundation and I find myself thinking ‘Well this is lovely, but where are we going again?’.
Maybe the text break is a ploy to keep one reading because, as a colleague said, there’s no natural place to stop so you keep going (then tell everyone the book was a page-turner). Maybe I should get over my archaic plot-driven views of novel-construction… Blame the fact that I read a lot of crime and crime writers like to leave you hanging at the end of a chapter. More likely, acknowledge that despite adoring reading – indeed being terrified of being stuck someplace for more than five minutes with nothing to read – I’m a busy person who breaks up her life into chunks to get everything done, and even when reading for pleasure I have a niggling sense of needing to move on to the next thing and therefore needing a marker for when I am to stop the current thing I’m doing. I also blame trying to get manuscripts or books read before work deadlines or book groups, and again, requiring pointers to how I’m going and where I need to get to.
The next book (B is for Book Club), American Wife, is a text break paradise and it is an easy, meandering read. See, it’s working.
*I don’t know who Henry is supposed to be either.