Chapter Length

Mon, Oct 9 2017 02:31pm IST 1
Anna
Anna
17 Posts
When writing a novel, do you think it matters if some chapters are short and others a lot longer?
I find it difficult to keep them similar lengths as sometimes there is a lot more action in a scene than others. I am also trying to follow advice and avoid switching character perspectives mid-chapter, so sometimes that means a short chapter so I can move onto a new chapter with a different perspective.
Mon, Oct 9 2017 02:47pm IST 2
Hilly
Hilly
175 Posts
Hi Anna. I was told that chapters should be (more or less) the same and not too long, as busy people like to have a place to be able to stop. (It seems that their attention span is quite short too!) Can you turn the longer ones into more chapters? I'm also having trouble with this, as I've got two perspectives that run one after the other but again, like you say, there's more going on in some. Tricky, as is this whole writing business.
Be very careful about the switching character perspectives part way through. Lots of people don't even realise that they've done this.
Good luck.
Mon, Oct 9 2017 03:04pm IST 3
Anna
Anna
17 Posts
Thanks - yes after gaining feednack I have realised changing perspectives mid-chapter is confusing, but changing chapters every time makes for some short chapters. This is quite nice for the reader as you say - I agree it is nice to have a place to stop; I am grateful for short chapters when I am reading in bed and start falling asleep! However, some of my key scenes are naturally long and I have struggled to find places to break it up without losing the flow, but I'm not entirely happy with these chapters being three or four times longer than some of the others!
Mon, Oct 9 2017 03:10pm IST 4
Squidge
Squidge
2195 Posts
I tend to write now in one huge block, and mark where I think the chapter breaks will be needed. That means that my shortest chapter is probably only two or three pages... I don't worry about getting them even, but find the place in the story where there is a natural break - change of scene, change of POV, or a movement in time. That way, it feels more natural than trying to engineer a chapter break after so many pages, because the story may not need a break at that place.

If you're keeping the pace going in the longer chapters, then the fact that they are longer shouldn't necessarily be an issue, because you're taking the reader with you at a rate of knots.
Mon, Oct 9 2017 03:11pm IST 5
Squidge
Squidge
2195 Posts
Oh - ought to add that only when I read through the complete novel, post editing, do I fix those chapter endings...and decide on what they are going to be called, if I do decide to title them.
Tue, Oct 10 2017 10:23am IST 6
Penworthy
Penworthy
14 Posts

I used to worry about this, too, but now I don't. A chapter takes as long as it takes, according to the rhjythm of the story.

Be careful of writing too many short chapters. I once tried to read a book by Peter James. It had over 60 chapters in it, many of them only a few paragraphs long. The effect was a jerky, bitty, disconnected narrative that I took no pleasure in reading.

Tue, Oct 10 2017 02:18pm IST 7
Anna
Anna
17 Posts
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. Good to know that it doesn't necessarily matter if chapters are of uneven length - as you said Squidge, some of the longer scenes don't require a break and I'm conscious putting one in will just look obvious that I've tried to split it up!
Tue, Oct 10 2017 03:52pm IST 8
Gus
Gus
115 Posts
I find that I always end up reading more if chapters are short, because I seem to have a shorter attention span than I like to think I have... anything longer than about 25 pages and I'm unlikely to read more than one at a time. I think as long as they're mostly somewhat consistent then it's ok, but even having the odd 1- or 2-page 'chapter' is fine if there's a need for it.
Tue, Oct 10 2017 04:51pm IST 9
L.
L.
143 Posts
I think like everything else there are no absolute it depends on the story and what suits it best. I have read books with very short chapters and on the opposite end one of my favourite books only has 4 chapters for about 300 pages. One thing I do think is important is whenever possible finishing a chapter on a high to push the reader to turn that page to the next chapter. I also believe that during the editing process the length and number of chapters are likely to vary until it is just right.
Sun, Oct 15 2017 07:37pm IST 10
Mr Smith
Mr Smith
1 Posts
I think that a chapter is just the length it should be. I think I read a Terry Pratchett where there were no chapters at all. I do Agree with L about leaving it so that the reader wants to continue. Or in the case of Dan Brown finish the chapter in the middle of the chapter so you have to read on.
Sat, Oct 21 2017 02:52pm IST 11
VinoCollapso
VinoCollapso
4 Posts
I've read that when you are increasing tension or suspense, you should shorten everything - chapters, paragraphs, sentences and words.

Don't change perspective in a chapter - it's a golden rule!

You can break a chapter within a scene if something startling happens or if something is revealed.


Sat, Oct 21 2017 03:12pm IST 12
EmmaD
EmmaD
3385 Posts
Just stirring things here, to help each writer make their own "rule-book" for these things (because taking on someone else's rule-book is like you, being tall, dark and curvy, dressing in what suits your short, fair and skinny friend...):

Why long sentences are often more forward-moving than short ones:



Why one-scene-per-chapter may not be the best way to tell your story:


And why jump-cuts to get you from scene to scene may not be as forward-moving as narrating that same move:

Sat, Oct 21 2017 03:17pm IST 13
EmmaD
EmmaD
3385 Posts
Ach! Can't edit. Meant to say - all of which adds up to thinking of chapters not as numbers of words, but as units of storytelling. Some are short - some are long. Like life, really.

Having said that, I think it can be worth noticing if different chapters are wildly different lengths, and asking yourself whether that's a warning sign that your story's sense of "a unit" isn't consistent. (Hope that makes sense?). Does each unit have its own coherence, and are you giving the same degree of fleshing-out to all the units which have the same degree of importance to the story, and so need the same presence in it? Have you skimped anything which needs more substance, or let something relatively minor sprawl too much?

To which end - this post might also help: when in a scene to Tell (i.e. summarise, inform), and when to Show (i.e. dramatise, evoke):

Sun, Oct 22 2017 01:23am IST 14
K.S. Crooks
K.S. Crooks
41 Posts
I try to give myself a lower limit for chapter length, as I occasionally neglect to add in the details of the location or characters. I sometimes get into the flow of the main details or simply forget no one else can see what I envision unless I state them. Consider the feel of the story at the moment as to whether a chapter needs to be longer or shorter.

Please login or sign up to post on this network.
Click here to sign up.