Chapters probably began during the beginning of story-telling, with one chapter being what the story teller had lined up for the night. A One-Paragraph Chapter
is probably what happened when the Story-Teller said, "No, I'm too tired tonight. Maybe tomorrow." but the listeners kept begging him.
Sometimes used to separate parts of the plot, sometimes used to give a feeling of in-and-out consciousness (See: Misery
), and sometimes used by inexperienced writers who fail to deliver a better-fleshed out story and only have one plot point occur. Experienced writers will usually avoid this, working in the important, if not unrelated, subject into a new chapter that progresses the story at a good pace. Legendary writers (like Stephen King
) can use the one paragraph chapter to a good use to better give a certain disconnected feeling in the story. (Or can use it because who cares if you don't like it, it'll be on the best-sellers list just from his name alone.)
It's interesting to note that not all one paragraph chapters are short
. (Especially in Fan Fic
where an entire story can be in one paragraph, if not one sentence
.) A paragraph can last as long as it's talking about one subject, technically speaking.
Sometimes, a One-Paragraph Chapter
can be used to describe a chapter that has more than one paragraph, but only had content enough to fill one paragraph. Filler descriptions, useless dialogue, and off-topic ranting might bloat the chapter, but all in all, plot-related things would fit in one paragraph.
The one-paragraph chapter usually leads to a sour taste in the mouth of a reader if they're going for the "One More Chapter Syndrome". Imagine knowing that your favorite book has 26 chapters (thanks to the table of contents), being at chapter 23, and then seeing all of chapter 24 (and even 25) in their entirety on the next two pages.
- Put together, chapters 10 and 11 of Through the Looking-Glass (in which Alice wakes and the Red Queen becomes a kitten) have only 57 words. They each have a picture, too.
- As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner:
- There's a chapter consisting entirely of the words "My mother is a fish."
- It Makes Sense In Context... if you've been able to follow the incredibly confusing existential philosophy-speak up to that point.
- Similarly, there's a later chapter consisting of Cash's two-line winding thought that the coffin wasn't balanced properly, ending as suddenly as it begins as he realizes no one is "listening" to him.
- In the Twilight novel New Moon, when Edward and family leave Bella, there are several chapters where Bella says only "Nothing happens," to effectively convey her deep depression.
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
- Played for Laughs in So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. After the protagonists decide on a trip to Los Angeles, a chapter consists entirely of an airport announcement noting that Flight 121 is about to depart for Los Angeles, "so if your travel plans today do not include Los Angeles, now would be the perfect time to disembark."
- An early chapter in Life, the Universe and Everything consists of a short Guide note commenting on Galactic history and the inanity of civilizations. It was removed from the American edition.
- The Snarkout Boys and the Baconburg Horror by Daniel Pinkwater includes many short chapters, the shortest of which consists of the three words "Anything is possible."
- Sideways Stories from Wayside School: "There is no Miss Zarves. There is no nineteenth story. Sorry."
- Lolita has one in which Humbert asks his printer to fill up the entire page with "Lolita." He does not.
- In the ninth chapter of John Dies at the End, the narrator Dave is trying to figure out what he did in the forgotten half hour between getting home from work and realizing he's standing in his living room holding his handgun with one bullet gone. He eventually realizes he locked something in his toolshed in the backyard, and after careful deliberation, decides not to investigate. The entire tenth chapter is as follows: "Looking back, if I had gone in and seen what was in the toolshed, I would have put a bullet in my own skull one minute later."
- In Tamora Pierce's Provost's Dog series, this crops up on two occasions. On one, our protagonist/journal-keeper has been awake far too long and can't stay up long enough to write down everything in her journal. In another, she's just drunk.
- The Captain Underpants takes this to an extreme and turns in into a Running Gag: every book has a chapter called, "To Make a Long Story Short". Every chapter has what might normally be a long sequence condensed into three words, maximum. For example, the first book has a chapter that ends with the villain's hideout exploding. The next chapter consists solely of, "They got away."
- Tristram Shandy has a few. For example, chapter five of the fourth volume is:
Is this a fit time, said my father to himself, to talk of PENSIONS and GRENADIERS?
- Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. There's a chapter entitled "Who Created The Tone?" That ends with George W. Bush talking about how his election to the presidency would "change the tone in Washington". The following chapter is entitled, "Did the Tone Change?" It consists of one word: "No."
- The first chapter in Joe Hill's "Horns". In general, Joe Hill seems to be a fan of this trope.
- The very last chapter of Angela's Ashes is only one word: Tis.
- Wilkie Collins' "The Narrative of the Tombstone" in The Woman in White.
- Happens occasionally in The Pale King. Chapter 17 is little more than half a page long.
- An example where the chapter title is actually longer than the chapter: A recurring joke in The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift In The Equatorial Pacific had been the author's struggle with writers block. Chapter 16 is entitled "In which the Author goes deep inside the mind of the Novelist and expounds - for the benefit of future generations - on what it takes to produce Literature, the noblest Art to which many are called and few chosen." After this, the page is entirely blank until the lower right hand corner, which says "Moving on..."
- The first Machine of Death anthology includes a one-sentence short story: "HIV Infection From Machine of Death Needle." - "Well," I thought, "that sucks."
- Stephen King's Misery contains a number of these, but near the end there is a chapter consisting of one word: Rinse.
- The book Bumageddon: The Final Pongflict by Andy Griffiths has a chapter titled "Nothing". The contents are as follows: "Nothing..."
- Jack Douglas' comic novel(?) My Brother Was An Only Child is littered with these.
- Life of Pi has a few chapters with only one or two sentences in them. In fact, part two of the book has all of its chapters in an odd order so each chapter can focus on a different object or event in the story.
- One chapter of the novelization of the movie Gremlins consists of two words: "Pete forgot."
- Machado de Assis' The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas, also as Epitaph for a Small Winner, has a few. Some force the definition of "paragraph".
- The entire first chapter of Savages is "Fuck you."
- The Name of the Wind has the chapter Flame and Thunder, which is about half a page long. It's used to emphasize an important moment of the narrator's life, and is justified, given the Framing Device.
- In Crooked Little Vein, an early chapter is a mere two sentences long.
An hour later, I walked into some freak bar on Bleeker Street and yelled, "I'm buying a hundred drinks - for me!"
Oh, they beat the shit out of me.
- Un Lun Dun, by China Miéville, contains a chapter whose title, "The Powerful Resurgence of the Everyday", is longer than its content: "Of course she was wrong."
- The Wandering by Roger Elwood. One chapter consists of just two sentences, simply ending with "Graita died".
- Ra: "Death Surrounds This Machine", which takes place in the middle of a fight between two highly super-powered individuals, and consists entirely of a description of one of the participant's (numerous) deaths.