Ask the Book Doctor: A Different Way to Divide a Novel?

Question: Is there any technical reason for a novel not to be broken up into parts? I want to break my next novel up in a way that I haven’t really seen before.

Part 1 – Introduction of the main character (the good guy). Provide plot and conflict.

Part 2 – Introduce opposing character (the bad guy)

Part 3 – Good and bad characters clash, and conflict is resolved.

The first twelve chapters focus on the “good guy” perspective. The “bad guy” is introduced in Chapter 13. If I spend the next twelve or so chapters telling the other side of the story (the bad guy’s perspective), will readers forget the plight of the good guy in the first twelve chapters?

I really want to have the two sides (good and evil) make compelling arguments. By breaking up the novel this way, I hope the reader will be conflicted going into the third part of the book. Any thoughts?

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The Book Doctor Says: The reason you can’t find any specific material on the subject of breaking a novel into parts is that (at least to my knowledge) there is no absolute rule regarding it.

The only problem I can perceive is that according to your outline, all the clash occurs in the final part, so what will make readers continue reading through the first two parts? Yes, it says plot and conflict will be provided in Part 1, but if there’s only one character in that part, how can there be conflict? Conflict and tension are the elements that make readers turn pages and keep reading.

That said, I can’t judge the book without seeing it, so if you sense that it is working the way you are writing it, trust your gut and move forward. I have seen good books broken into parts for the characters; Franny and Zoey by J.D. Salinger comes to mind, for one.

Bobbie Christmas, book doctor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at www.zebraeditor.com. This article is reposted from the Self-Publishing Advisor archives.