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When I do my daily writing, questions often pop into my head, and I jot them down to ponder later on. I was going through all the papers on my desk today and couldn't help but wonder: are chapters in novels and sequences in movies structurally equivalent? In other words are chapters used in stories for the same purpose sequences are used in movies?

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Could be. But I'm not entirely sure what you mean by 'sequence.' What you define it as... – Mussri Oct 17 '12 at 22:28
I understand sequences are used to group scenes, just like chapters are used, but structurally are there any differences in usage? I noticed for example the average screenplay almost always has 8 sequences, while a novel has any number of chapters. When a novel is translated to screenplay the eight sequences still crop up (just with longer lengths per sequence) even despite any number of chapters. Is this compacting of material when rewriting a narrative for cinema merely an artifact or constraint of the medium? – James F. Oct 18 '12 at 0:23
Non-word adaptations are constrained because they need to please a lot of people, simultaneously, and in a short time frame. Sequences divide the film into logical chunks where sequence n+1 is totally reliant on the viewers understanding of sequences [1, n]. So by that definition novel chapters could act like sequences, but not vice versa because the transition between chapters in a well-written novel is often much smoother than sequences in films. Films target cinemas which don't have a rewind button, novels have 'the previous page.' – Mussri Oct 18 '12 at 12:06
Also note how 'chapter' has different definition. Some writers just take 'chapter' to mean 'this's one more part of the story and it will be focused and will wrap up logically.' While others take it as 'a chapter of the protagonist's life' thus it's much longer, ends in a more definite way and is closer in definition to film sequences. – Mussri Oct 18 '12 at 12:09
up vote 2 down vote accepted

A chapter is the equivalence in so far that it divides a big chunk (the book) into smaller sections. But for a novel you have much more freedom as in a movie script which follows traditional structures.

Have you ever wondered why most movies are made for certain length? They are usually around 75 min, 90 min or 120 min. These numbers are multiplier of 15.

In the old days cinemas got the movies on reels which contained 15 minutes of film each. If you go for a 120 minutes movie with 15 minutes per reel you need: 120:15 = 8 reels.

So movies were divided into 8 sequences (one sequence per reel). These sequences were adapted to the three act structure:

  • Act I: Sequences 1 and 2
  • Act II: Sequences 3 and 4 - Midpoint - sequences 5 and 6
  • Act III: Sequences 7 and 8

For more details see CJ's Corner.

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+1 I LOVE learning bits of trivia like that. Uninformed inertia is so fascinating. Like the "we always cut the ends off the roast" legend. – Lauren Ipsum Oct 18 '12 at 13:05
Thanks, @Lauren, for the roast legend. Didn't know that and looked it up. Hilarious! – John Smithers Oct 18 '12 at 13:56
Traditions can be very funny things. :) Which is why it's always good to ask about the "why" behind the things we do. – Lauren Ipsum Oct 18 '12 at 14:18
This explains why studios seem to be more comfortable with making progressively longer films. Technology has changed. Interesting, and thanks for the link. – James F. Oct 18 '12 at 20:20

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