Making smooth interconnections between chapters


Dividing a book into Parts and then subdividing the Parts into Chapters is often used in non-fiction as a means of splitting a book into logical areas covering different topics, different time periods, or different locations. The danger is that the author sometimes fails to get the writing to flow smoothly from one chapter to another. Even worse, a chapter can be left ‘hanging’ with an inconclusive ending, and another chapter started which does not seem to flow on logically from the preceding chapter. So what can we do about this, and does it really matter?

Of course it matters. Its the author’s responsibility to (a) keep the reader engaged and keen to read on, and (b) to arrange his material so that it follows a logical sequence. So how do we do this?

I had a look at my recently published book ‘Two Squatters’ to see if I could select some examples of connections between chapters that actually worked. I know that I struggled with this aspect of my writing, and am seeking ways to improve this in my next non-fiction work. Any ideas would be very welcome.

Essentially, the techniques I used were:
-using recall from the previous chapter at the start of the next. The danger here is that one sounds repetitive if this is overdone. A single line of recall is enough.
-using a short summary or synopsis (in a smaller font) of each chapter at the start of the chapter. This leads the reader to decide if the chapter will be of interest to them.
-using chronology of events as the major decider of the order of the chapters.

In a non-fiction work, does it matter if the chapters are distinct entities, and are not particularly related? I noticed towards the end of my work that I had several rather disconnected chapters, e.,g., land investments, a bank cashier, a voyage in 1854 with La Trobe, and retirement. However, I think that worked OK because there was some chronology in all that. Also, I think that by that time you probably have the reader ‘hooked’ fairly way, or am I wrong there?

Finally, is there a role for dividing a book into Parts. I had four parts: Introduction, Campaspe, Melbourne, England. So essentially, I was dividing my book up into four locations. Did this matter, was it necessary, and did it help the reader? I don’t really know the answer to these questions. To me, it was the instinctive thing to do, but maybe I like putting things in boxes.

i have attended a few book launches lately, partly to find out how book launches work best. I am planning to finally launch ‘Two Squatters’ in August or September. The books launched were: Norwood: it changed the face of Melbourne by Roland Johnson; Cultured Colonists: George Alexander Gilbert and his family, settlers in Port Phillip by Margaret Bowman; and Dark Emu – black seeds: agriculture or accident? by Bruce Pascoe. All three were enjoyable and friendly events. The first was held in the Brighton Beach Bowling Club, the second in the Melbourne Mechanics Institute, and the third at Readings Bookshop in Carlton. Which brings me to the question, should I be using this blogsite as a place for short book reviews of books like these? What do you think?

One thought on “Making smooth interconnections between chapters

  1. Good topic Martin. Whether the continuity between chapters matters much for family history writing probably depends on what the audience for the book is thought to be. For immediate family, it may not matter. They may simply turn to the chapter that interests them and then flick back and forth as they like to ‘get the information’ they need. In other words, a reference book. And nothing wrong with that. If however you are trying to tell an integrated story, or address some larger theme, then the chapter divisions, structure and relationship will have to serve that purpose.

    Book launches. I happened to hear Bruce Pascoe interviewed at length on ‘Big Mob’ program PBS Radio last week (I think). He made some interesting points and I want to read his ‘Emu-Seeds’ book. He uses Major Mitchell’s journals to bear witness to the agriculture and village-life of the Aboriginal people then (that is, that they were not just ‘hunter-gatherers’). I would make Mitchell’s journals (fully available on the web) required reading in Australian schools.

    As for book reviews on your blog – go for it!

    PS. You should see ‘Commanders of sail’ written and recently self-published via Bookpod by Geoffrey Stephenson. He brought a copy to the GSV meeting today. A mammoth book and beautifully done.

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