Number the Chapters

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When you read a book, do you ever consider the journey of the individual chapters? How they came into being and how they developed into part of a greater story?

What was once a single sentence in a story outline becomes a chapter outline and then grows into a draft chapter. And then the revisions process begins, and the chapter is slowly shaped into a short story in its own right.

But a novel is not a collection of short stories; each chapter has to work with the others, to form a complete book. So every relevant piece of information must be in exactly the right place, like a domino or a scrabble piece.

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To achieve this, the chapters are rewritten, rewritten, and rewritten some more. They may be expanded or reduced. They may be moved around. Two chapters may be merged into one, or one chapter may be split into two.

There is a ripple effect to every change, that must be smoothed out. Every change in one chapter can cause a change in another, or several others. From the moment they are written, chapters are growing and adapting.

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By the time the manuscript is ready for editing, not only can the story be quite different from the original idea, but something that started out in chapter 10 may now be in chapter eight, or chapter 12. 

Each chapter is numbered at the start, but any alteration to the structure of the story can result in a new chapter number. When this happens, every subsequent chapter must be renumbered as well.

When a reader picks up a book, it should feel as if the words flowed from the author’s mind in exactly the order they appear on the pages. As if the story could never have been written any other way.

But that isn’t what actually happened. Every one of those chapters had a whole life of its own, a story you will never know.

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