1. Augusto
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    Augusto Senior Member

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    Chapter length

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Augusto, Oct 5, 2015.

    What's the ideal lenght for a chapter in your opinion?

    I was thinking that, to the reader, finishing a chapter is an important part in the reading; a point to decide if they feel like continuing with the next one or making a pause; so, how do we handle the average lenght of our chapters?

    In my opinion, when chapters are too short the reader may feel like the story is sort of cheap, while doing long chapters may discourage them. It is almost like they feel chapters as personal conquests "Yeah, I'm done with chapter 3!" they think, and they take a few seconds to evaluate the content so far.

    Taking this into consideration, it becomes clear that we should pay attention to this element in our novels, just like anything else.

    Do you have an standart criteria on this regard?
     
  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I don't have a standard here. I've read books with very short chapter, books with very long chapters, and books with no chapters. I'm fine with all of those approaches. When I'm writing, I break for a new chapter at whatever point seems logical for the story and for what a given chapter is meant to accomplish, so I don't worry about maintaining a consistent chapter length.
     
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  3. Christine Ralston
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    Christine Ralston Active Member

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    Length of chapters can vary greatly from author to author, but as a reader, I prefer shorter chapters in the 10-15 page range.
     
  4. Augusto
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    Augusto Senior Member

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    I agree with you, Christine. Something around those lines should be fine, rather than 30 pages long chapters... in my opinion.
     
  5. nastyjman
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    nastyjman Contributing Member

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    I remember reading a chapter with only two sentences in it.

    I think sub-chapters can help with a chapter's pacing.
     
  6. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I've seen that done a few times. Sometimes with less in it - maybe even just a word or two - done for dramatic effect.

    What about books with no chapters. Scott Smith's fiction, for example. Or if you don't mind going back a ways, Virginia Woolf.
     
  7. Augusto
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    Augusto Senior Member

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    I have a novel with pretty long chapters. Since I didn't feel like I could split them in different chapters for a variety of reasons, I decided to fragment them in different sections... but I do seek for consistency in the lenght of my chapters.
     
  8. nastyjman
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    nastyjman Contributing Member

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    I think in lieu of chapters, some writers do scene breaks instead. I think that's fine as well.
     
  9. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Most of mine naturally come out at about 2,000 words but I don't aim for a particular length. It takes as long as it takes to tell that part of the story. I think I recall that the average reader takes a minute to read 200 words. 10 minutes per chapter seems okay to me.
     
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  10. Augusto
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    Augusto Senior Member

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    That's a nice way to put it. Using time instead of number of pages. Ten minutes seems like a fair request even for the lousiest reader one may have.
     
  11. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Same here. If a chapter goes beyond that range, I'm huffing in frustration thinking, When is this damned thing going to end already!?
     
  12. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    As I reader, I don't care about this in the slightest. It's one of those things, like POV or tense, that has no impact on my enjoyment of an otherwise well-written story.
     
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  13. Augusto
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    Augusto Senior Member

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    I don't think most people think like you, including writers.
     
  14. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I think writers tend to overthink this sort of thing. I think most readers will go along with whichever approach you adopt so long as you're giving them a good story. At least, the friends and family I know who are readers but aren't interested in writing don't seem to think or care too much about this kind of thing. They just want a good story to read.
     
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  15. Augusto
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    Augusto Senior Member

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    Put yourself in this situation: the story is great and you're enjoying it. You already read 250 pages and the book is 600 pages long. Now you finish chapter ? and must choose if you'll read the next chapter or take some rest. Would you just read two or three pages and stop whenever you want, or you would pause after finishing a chapter?

    Again, we write for our readers. So we should try to think in how they approach to our work and try to deliver something they can handle. Not caring about it, thinking they wouldn't care either is... not advisable.
     
  16. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Correct me if I'm wrong, but if 300 words on a MS Word document is equal to a page in a printed book, and you wanted 10 pages per chapter, then wouldn't that be 3,000 words per chapter in MS Word?

    Sorry if my basic math is wholly incorrect, I was never very good at math to begin with...
     
  17. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I stop whenever I feel like stopping. Mid-chapter or not. Again, there have been popular books with no chapters, with short chapters, and with long chapters, so it seems clear to me that a lot of readers are flexible on this.
     
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  18. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Agreed. If I want to stop reading, I stop. I don't have a weird need to get to the end of a chapter first.

    POV and tense is a different matter for me, but that's another thread. :D

    In any case, I'm certainly not going to let something like chapter length affect my writing. I wouldn't cut bits out of a chapter just to make it shorter, and nor would I add waffle to make it longer. That would not be worth any perceived benefit, IMO.
     
  19. Augusto
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    Augusto Senior Member

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    When we split our stories in chapters, it is because (correct me if I'm wrong) we believe the story can be paused at that time. In certain situations, a reader can make a judgement call of pausing the reading at a critical point, or right before it, which would perjudice the effect we were trying to provoque...

    As for your last paragraph, that's a fairly good point. It made me ask myself how I manage to keep a consistent lenght in chapters (not perfect but reasonably close).I don't know, I do a lot of planning, but I keep the number of pages I want to cover since the very beginning. I work with a maximum and a minimum lenght expectative, and it sort of works for me.

    So far I don't think I've waffle or chop anything, really.
     
  20. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    We can't control when a reader stops reading so we would be foolish to rely on chapter breaks to create an effect. I end a chapter when there is a POV shift or a significant leap of time. The only real effect a chapter break has, IMO, is jolting the reader out of the story for a moment. Sure, it makes them pause, but it also reminds them that they're reading a book. I want to do that at a natural point, where they need to stop for a moment and adjust to a new voice or a new point in the story, not because I've reached X pages.

    If a reader wants to stop reading they either don't have time to carry on or they are tired/distracted/etc. I would rather they put the book down and come back to it when they can concentrate rather than carry on reading to the point I've decided. :)

    I don't see how you can set yourself a target or limit and not have to cut or waffle to achieve it, unless it's a really broad range or unless you just start a new chapter at an arbitrary point for the sake of it. That doesn't seem like a good idea to me.
     
  21. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    When I write, my chapters cover one weeks worth of travel. (My characters are traveling from the Ural Mountains to the Swiss-Bavarian basin by horseback.) I have a map on the wall in my office with reasonable distance per week marked out. I found this helpful because it enabled me to overlay solar & lunar calendars as well; make sure that Celtic festivals were occurring at the right times; and keep a reasonable eye on when my MC would be menstruating/ovulating. It's also handy because I can reference the appropriate landscapes, etc. I put two hard returns between days in a chapter. During editing, I removed the "weekly" chapters and organized chapters by events and got rid of the hard returns between days.

    I think my point is, it doesn't matter how you write your chapters. You just need to find a method that works for you. You can always change chapter names, lengths, starting and stopping places, etc. when you edit.
     
  22. Augusto
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    Augusto Senior Member

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    Tenderiser, nobody is telling you how to do anything, so feel free to do what best works for you and take whatever advice you feel useful. If you don't think this thread is useful for your future works, just ignore it.

    As for your last paragraph, I just can. Maybe it is related to the fact that I don't go on inspiration rampages but rather in careful planning to build my story the way I think is best.

    But yeap, a lot of people succeed with different formulas, so nothing is written in stone... this is just an observation of something I believe to be preferable.
     
  23. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Augusto, this is a forum. That means people discuss things. You can't keep trying to shut down discussion when it doesn't go the way you want.

    Besides anything else, you asked for opinions and that's what you're getting. Feel free to ignore mine ;)
     
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  24. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    At night I read until I fall asleep, chapters are irrelevant.
    On weekends I read a chapter, vacuum, read a chapter, do laundry, read a chapter, grade bloody term papers for an hour.
     
  25. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have also been known to stop in the middle of a chapter. Hell, when writing, I'll occasionally stop in the middle of a sentence and pick up where I left off next time. That level of flow control is not going to apply to other readers. Trying to control every reader's flow experience is a futile exercise. All readers are different. And we all know what happens when we try to make everyone happy.

    Like many other things in fiction, I believe this to be a fine example of a "feel" thing. You'll "know" when to end your chapters, if indeed you have chapters. As long as the writing is engaging, I don't imagine there will be much of a problem. But then again, that may just be me.
     
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