1. PeterC
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    PeterC Active Member

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    Chapter Length

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by PeterC, Jul 31, 2012.

    I realize this question is impossible to answer definitively. I'm just looking for some guidelines...

    I've divided the draft of my novel into a small number of fairly large chapters that run in the 10,000 word range. In each chapter I have several abrupt scene shifts where I change setting and POV character. This allows me to follow several different characters in one chapter even though they are in different parts of the world doing different things. The scene lengths vary from a handful of paragraphs to around 2,000 words. Generally the scenes occur "at the same time" or close to each other in time but I have a significant time gap between some of the chapters.

    When I started I felt that the scene shifts added interest to the story but now I think I'm overusing them. When I read the story straight through it comes across as choppy. Also I've come to see my inability to smoothly transition from one scene to another as a liability rather than as a clever device. I'm looking for ways of combing or eliminating short scenes.

    My story naturally divides into three major sections. Thus I'm thinking about reorganizing the work's structure. I'm thinking about having three parts with a larger number of small chapters, each self contained without abrupt scene breaks. I would switch setting and POV only at chapter boundaries and do the major time jumps at part boundaries.

    Okay... so my question... what is a "normal" length for a chapter in such an organization? Of course it depends... but I don't want to produce chapters that are ridiculously short or excessively long. I'm writing science fiction and the recent books I've seen in this genre tend to have chapters that can be comfortably read in a fairly short time. That's convenient for readers and I think it will match my work as well. Just how long are those chapters anyway?
     
  2. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    You're right. There is no definitive answer to your question. And especially in your case because...

    This is the answer. The pace of your narrative will determine where the changes in setting or POV will be, and that in turn will determine how long a given chapter will be. Under this structure, you may find that one chapter is 8,000 words and another is 500 words. Don't worry about it. Until you get your first draft completed, I wouldn't even think about it. Just concentrate on getting the narrative to flow and your story told in a coherent manner. You can worry about tweaking the structure later.

    Best of luck.
     
  3. E. C. Scrubb
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    E. C. Scrubb Active Member

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    I've never been published, so I can't help on that front.

    As for my own thoughts - there's no such thing as a "normal" chapter length. Instead, the chapter should conclude when the step of the plot has been completed. If that takes 2000 words, great. If it takes 12,000 words, great. If it takes 22,000 words, ask yourself if you're cramming two steps into one.

    Does that make sense?

    I always think of a story as a path from beginning to end, and each chapter is a step on the path. So make sure that the step is fully taken and that you're situated to take the next step, then end the chapter. At least that's how I do it. It's a good question however.
     
  4. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    The best way to look at a chapter is like a scene in a movie. You carry it out, to it's logical conclusion, or what they call in scriptwriting a "beat." Sometimes, you can feel the "beat" coming, even if it's in the middle of a scene. A character can say something that gives you a breaking point. But, no, there's no limit word count wise.
     
  5. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    In Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, there were numerous chapters that were less than a page long while others spanned up to twelve pages or more (I couldn't tell you off the top of my head). I think the success of this book can speak for itself when it comes to this mater: it doesn't matter how long chapters are, even if they have varying lengths within one novel itself. What matters is that you provide the necessary content within each chapter to keep the reader interested and informed.
     
  6. PeterC
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    PeterC Active Member

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    Thanks for the comments... very helpful. I've been going over the time line of my story and I discovered a serious problem. I have two events happening closely to each other in time that would be impossible to really happen that closely. These events are critical to my plot so I feel like I have to fix this otherwise the story loses credibility.

    While working on the time line I came to realize that I have about a 1-2 month gap in time between most, but not all, of my large chapters. To fix the problem I mentioned above I'll need to add a 3 month gap between two chapters that currently don't have a time gap between them. This will actually make my store more temporally consistent. Now I'm leaning toward maintaining my current chapter structure. I'll still try to combine some of my short scenes, however, to make the read less choppy.
     
  7. D. Ayers Gray
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    D. Ayers Gray Member

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    I generally shoot for the 8k and above range, but it does vary based upon my project.
     
  8. Edward M. Grant
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    Edward M. Grant Contributing Member

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    I don't really worry about chapters until the story is nearly done. Then I'd pick the best spots to chop it up and fix up any length problems by cutting, expanding or moving things around.
     
  9. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    I always try to keep the reader in mind, or more so, myself as a reader. Personally, I prefer books that have short chapters, because then, if I want to take a break, I don't have too long to finish the chapter so that I can put the book down (I hate stopping in the middle of a chapter). So personally, I prefer to keep chapters short.
     

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