Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Writer Wednesday: Chapter Length

We all know that so much of reading and writing is subjective. So in the next few weeks, I'm going to talk about some of those issues that come up that are really nothing more than personal preference. This week, I want to talk about chapter length.

I once had a publisher tell me that chapters had to be ten pages long. If you just smacked your forehead or rolled your eyes, you're not alone. I did the same thing. Hence, you won't find any of my books with that publisher. ;) So let me start by saying there is no rule about how long your chapters have to be. That's just crazy. And if you don't believe me, ask James Patterson. Some of his chapters are a page and a half long, and he makes much more money than I can even dream about. Okay, now that we've cleared that up, how do you know how long to make your chapters?

A good rule of thumb is to leave your chapter hanging at a point where the reader wants to turn the page and keep reading. But that could be four pages in, ten pages in, or fourteen pages in. This is where that subjectivity comes in. Personally, I love short chapters. I think they give you a feeling of accomplishment because you are seeing new chapter heading so often. That's me though. I know others who prefer longer chapters. And really that's the point. We can sit here and beat ourselves up to get to that "perfect" chapter length, but in reality, there is no such thing. 

So don't stress if one chapter is shorter than the others. That means it should be. Trust the writer in you to know when those breaks need to occur. Readers will follow suit, and if they don't, then they aren't meant to be your fan, but plenty of others will be.

*If you have a question you'd like me to answer from the other side of the editor's desk, feel free to leave it in the comments and I'll schedule it for a future post.

18 comments:

  1. I am not kidding when I say I was told chapter books had to be ten chapters long. No less, no more. I could never get confirmation on that, but I've read other chapter books besides mine and it doesn't seem to be true. However, because of that the first Piper Morgan book was ten chapters long and I've been told to make ALL the books that length. That is quite the plotting challenge, believe me!

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    1. Yikes! I'm so sorry to hear that. That really stifles creativity when you have to uphold demands like that.

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  2. I like shorter chapters and a fast pace. Here's the problem with long chapters. For most folks who work and must find time to read, it's important to steal chapters here and there in our busy schedules. For me, I look at chapter length before making the decision to read it before a meeting or before a lunch date arrives. If it's 10 pages, I'll dog ear it and get to it later. With too many of these types of chapters, the book may never get finished! That's tragic.

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    1. Exactly! I read on commercial breaks because I hate commercials, so if a chapter is long, I know I can't fit it in. Short ones are no problem though.

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  3. I see chapters almost like paragraphs. You need variety in order to keep readers engaged. Having a normal chapter length is okay, but think about how a sudden short chapter punctuates the pace.

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    1. It definitely does! And that was a great way to explain it. Thanks!

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  4. I think it depends on the author and the genre. When Tom Clancy was alive, he was writing books you could use as substitutes for weight lifting, and some of his chapters could be fifty pages.

    I find that at least where I write, longer chapters might happen late in the book. As a reader, I appreciate it when a writer leaves spots in a chapter so you can book mark and come back to pick up reading later.

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    1. It definitely does depend on the book. Some call for longer chapters in some places.

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  5. I agree with William. I think it depends on the genre, too. Guess it's all about pacing, right? I have a tendency to do shorter chapters to increase the pace right before the climax.

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    1. It definitely should be about pace. Chapter length is actually a tool in a writer's toolbox. If we want to increase the pace, we use shorter chapters. If a publisher takes that tool away, it's hurting the author and the reader.

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  6. Writing styles differ. I have fan fiction that are the length of some full length books. Hell I have a one chapter fan fiction that was 10,000 words long. Looking back I'm shocked since I always questioned how strong I was at writing short stories beyond 2,000 - 3,000 words, if that. We all have our own styles and interests. When it comes to writing it all depends on what you are willing to do to learn. Oh and I hope that ten page guy meets the person who believes thirty pages are more make a chapter. Let him feel a bit of that treatment.

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  7. I love short chapters, too. I have a chapter (in Little Orchid) with only one line because the effect works best that way.

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    1. Nice! I'm glad you weren't afraid to do what was best for the book.

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  8. I model my chapters like James Patterson, all over the place. When I've said what needed to be said in that section, it is done. Luckily, no reader has complained.

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    1. No readers have complained because you did what you should do. :)

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  9. When I read Kevin Henkes's OLIVE'S OCEAN, I realized how effective uneven chapter lengths can be when used with mastery. (Some of his are a sentence long, followed by the conventional MG eight pages or so.) I think leaving the reader eager to go on to the next chapter, however way it's done, is a must, though.

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