How to Order Your Chapters

By Douglas Winslow Cooper

Imagine you have written nine chapters. What order shall they be put in? 

If you are telling a story, as fiction or a memoir, you could tell it chronologically, a principle which dictates the chapter order. Often, this is not the most interesting arrangement, and you will likely start with a chapter that grabs attention, as well as sets the theme or a theme of the piece. That leaves you with the rest of the chapters to put in order.

You have more choices than you may be comfortable analyzing. Mathematics tells us that N chapters have N factorial = N! = (N)(N-1)…(1) possible orderings. For N=5 chapters this becomes 5!=5*4*3*2*1=120 possible orderings. N=9 chapters have 362,880 possible orderings. No wonder the choice can be difficult!

To simplify your problem, you need a method to your madness. Break the work up into major sections, then order within the sections. With N=9, three sections of 3 chapters each, the possibilities are 3!=6 orderings for each section, 6*6*6=216 for all the combinations of these when taken together, and 6 times this if the section orders are also free to be chosen, a real improvement. 

So, finding a principle on which to base the ordering is a plus for the writer, and for the reader, and breaking the work into sections simplifies the ordering choice even more.