1. Greenwood
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    Greenwood Active Member

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    Chapter lengths, how much do they matter?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Greenwood, Nov 19, 2015.

    I've been thinking about this for quite some time now, but how much does chapter length actually influence the experience of readers?

    For this book right now, I have several chapters ranging from 2000 words up to almost 4000. I'm not too concerned about that when speaking of the book I have in mind as a whole though. Thing I'm worried about is the first 2 of them. The first is just under 2000, and the second is well above 3600. Will people actually notice this? Can the length of the first chapter create some standard or norm that people will remember when they flip the page onto the second, or the whole book for that matter?
     
  2. Akarevaar
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    Akarevaar Member

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    I think this depends on the content of your chapters. For example, a 2000 word chapter that is all dialogue, back story and 'boring bits' will seem a lot longer than a 2000 word chapter of action ,short sentences and high tension.
     
  3. CristianOrtt
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    CristianOrtt Member

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    To be honest, I don't think it matters at all. You could throw in a single-page chapter in there, and if your story is interesting I'm going to keep reading. Maybe it was just a short side-note, something that happened away from the story, but something I needed to know. When I flip the page and see another chapter, I might go "Huh, that was a short one." But there's no way it's going to cause me to pass judgement and write a review (The story was great! 3 out 5 stars because of chapter length differences).

    Some actual authors have said that it matters, that it affects pacing, and I have to say they are wrong. Only because I am a reader and I know for a fact that it has never been an issue for me. If you are worried about your chapters in any way, it should be about how you start them and end them. That's the part that can really affect pacing from one to the next and whether or not it's interesting to continue reading.
     
  4. qWirtzy
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    qWirtzy Member

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    In some ways, it depends on the type of narrative you're writing. Are there multiple storylines and perspectives, or one continuous story? Breaking chapters into shorter ones or combining them can really dictate the pace at which your reader gains information. If you want to move forward in time, maybe you can cut out extra shoe leather by having a chapter break, like a scene change in a movie. That sort of thing. I don't subscribe to a hard-and-fast rule for length, but how I break up my narrative into chapters is definitely one of my most trusty tools for creating my stories.
     
  5. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Chapter length has never been an issue to me. I've never cared how long the chapters are in books I read, and it doesn't seem to matter in the novels I write. I have to admit that when I read Moby Dick, I was a bit surprised to see such a long book divided into such small chapters (seems like there are hundreds of them!). But other than that, not a problem.

    My own chapters tend to be long - 8,000 to 11,000 words. A lot happens in them. I love rereading them, though, because to me they make sense. :)
     
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  6. Haze-world
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    Haze-world Senior Member Supporter

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    How many words are in your book?
    I have written 70 chapters of appx 1400 words to give appx 100 000 total words. Is that acceptable?
    I would like to write longer chapters, but was unsure.
     
  7. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Anything is acceptable! I find it more helpful to put it in terms of reading time rather than words. The average reader reads about 200 words per minute, so your chapters will take approximately 7 minutes to read. Sounds fine to me.

    My thoughts are similar to @CristianOrtt. Chapter length never even registers to me and I think authors are foolish to rely on it to help their pacing. You can't assume readers won't stop reading in the middle of a chapter rather than the end - I certainly do, especially now I have a Kindle and there's no chance of me losing my place. Your writing should set the pacing, not the way the book is laid out.

    On the other hand I do think chapter breaks serve a purpose - they make readers pause, even just for a second, so they can readjust to a new setting/POV more easily. I wouldn't want a series of short (<500 words) chapters, because I think that would jolt readers out of the story a little too often. I also wouldn't want chapters that are too long (4000+) for those readers who must stop at the end of a chapter. I don't want them to start skimming just because they're impatient to go to sleep or whatever. But I would sooner break either of those 'rules' than put in a chapter break just for the sake of it. I feel chapters should end at a natural point.
     
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  8. Haze-world
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    Haze-world Senior Member Supporter

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    Thanks for that it was really helpful!
    : )
     
  9. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    I am certainly not an expert and I defer to the ones who are. My own chapters have lengths between 5000 and 7000 words. I have occassionally thought about making them shorter, but really, they are just rounded and making them shorter would not give me enough space to explain all I wanted.

    Haze-world, do you think they are too long? :bigconfused:

    It would be more important to me to get a good pacing. To assure that the reader does not loose interest, that each chapter climaxes more or less with a new thought, advancing the storyline and building up anticipation for the next. Sure there are readers out there who, for one reason or the other, have to stop in the middle of one but I wouldn't want that to influence my pacing.
     
  10. Haze-world
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    Haze-world Senior Member Supporter

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    No, your chapters are just right. I was amazed that your chapters are longer than mine.

    Reading your work made me wonder if I had got the length right in mine, but mostly the length suits my writing. It is a quick read, but if I need to I can spread into the next chapter.

    I agree with all that was said earlier. Pacing comes from the set up within the chapter rather than the length of chapters. After all, chapters can be broken up into scenes when necessary.
     
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  11. Duchess-Yukine-Suoh
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    Duchess-Yukine-Suoh Girl #21 Contributor

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    I wouldn't worry about that, especially since it's the first chapter, which usually serves as an introduction. It makes sense for it to be shorter. Plus, I've seen books where a chapter smack-dab in the middle of the book is one page, and it's never bothered me.
     
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  12. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I'm more interested in the separation of scenes and how that's done than by chapter. I've read lots of big chapters that managed to make them feel less so by clearly separating certain scenes ( within them ) and not trying to drag one event into another or adding filler. How apt is the writer at transitioning, exposition and knowing when to cut away from a scene and start a new one fresh.
     
  13. Greenwood
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    Greenwood Active Member

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    Thanks everybody, I had not expected so many replies!

    From what I've gathered, the importance of pacing and switching of scenes weighs far heavier than that of lenght of chapters, going from all responces. And that's great, for me at least. :D

    The first chapter is intense, and far grittier than the 2 that follow it, but much shorter, although that should not be a problem as it is an introduction that kind of sets the tone of what is to come.

    I'll forget about word count for now and focus on a general outline of how I divide my scenes. Thanks all!
     
  14. Greenwood
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    Greenwood Active Member

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    That makes a lot of sense indeed. Your comment gives rise to another question though;

    Instead of lenght, would the difference in ending a chapter matter a lot to you? In my case chapter 1 is an introduction which, without going into the story too deep, features a MC who pretty much is in deep shit already. This chapter ends with somewhat of a cliffhanger.

    A stark contrast to chapter 2, which features a MC that is situated far away from these problems, and as such, the buildup of this character is slower, although not less interesting. Because of these char's proximity to the "problem", their stories really set off at a different pace in terms of events. I definatly want to introduce all 3 MC's in the first 3 chapters, but because of that, the 1st is much more exiting.
     
  15. qWirtzy
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    qWirtzy Member

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    Heh, for what it's worth, this is the exact structure of my novel. Sooo, I think it's great! In my third chapter the first MC meets the second MC. In chapter 4, I introduce my third and final MC, who meets the first MC in chapter 6. Post-modern storytelling allows us to play with these different flavors and paces, with no need to start on action and keep raising the stakes from there.
     
  16. Tea@3
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    Tea@3 Contributing Member

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    So true. Great point.
     
  17. Tea@3
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    Tea@3 Contributing Member

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    Good stuff.
     
  18. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    Be careful that you don't loose the reader with the above. I always loath it when I get hooked on a specific problem with a MC I can relate to and then the writer suddenly wants me to completely forget about that, transplanting me somewhere different and root for another - for which at this moment I have absolutely no interest! In which case I've been known to skip entire chapters.

    Maybe seed the beginning of chapter 2 with some relation to the problem in chapter 1, to circumvent this problem. If the reader is convinced at the beginning of chapter 2 that it relates to the troubles the MC in chapter 1 has, the reader will not loose interest.. as it impinges on his concern for the MC he knows :)
     
  19. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Chapter length only matters in that a chapter must end with the reader having an overwhelming desire to keep reading.

    James Patterson writes short ones.
    Stephen King writes long ones.

    Write until things come to a head.
    Leave (or plant) a question in the reader's mind.
    Hit Ctrl-Enter.
     
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  20. Tea@3
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    Tea@3 Contributing Member

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    Sharp, very sharp. I love it! :cheerleader:
     
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  21. Greenwood
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    Greenwood Active Member

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    Great advise, and I am glad that I do indeed have this little "connector" in the first paragraph of my second. Even though it is only a subtle, one sentence thing. Chapters 2 and 3 address a whole other issue than the first, but I think I can get this to work the way I have it now.

    In the first chapter, MC X is a lord of a small keep that is being purged by a merciless inquisition against his will , but against which he has no power. This is because his people worship a god I will call G here. MC 1 also worships this god but is unable to speak up to the inquisition because of political and safety reasons.

    It soon becomes apparent that in chapter 2, we are on the other side of the country that has not yet witnessed this inquisition, and that it revolves around another problem that has nothing to do with the inquisition. However, I started he chapter out by having MC 2 think "By G, life can be good when you just choose it to be."

    This is my connector. Even though the reader will know that the problem of chapter I is not there yet and that the story will take him/her on another journey, this little sentence will hopefully make them think something like "Oh you think you have your problems now, but if you believe in G like I think you do, you just wait bro":D

    I like it and I think this may work. It introduces the reader to another thread, while at the same time making them realize that more trouble is brewing beyond the horizon.

    Good one. I'll keep this in mind.:agreed:
     
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  22. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member

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    I think how long your chapter is does not matter as long as the flow is right. Most of my chapters I write are between 8-15k. But because of the dialog I write, most feel it is a quick read. As long as you stick to the plot, your chapters will flow.
     
  23. Aster
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    Aster Member

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    Chapters are your way of manipulating pace and tone.

    Generally, short chapters generate a sense of urgency, punctuate an otherwise subtle plot development, and can heighten the emotional impact of a fleeting but potentially significant moment.

    Generally, long chapters generate a sense of anticipation and/or dread, allow the reader to become submerged or to absorb the necessary world building, and can sustain a desired tone before a shift.

    I say generally, because chapter length can be used in other ways depending on the overall tone. It's something that the reader should only be aware of after the fact. To everyone who says that they don't notice or it's not an issue to them, then the author has done a great job crafting their book and manipulating their reader.

    There have been times when I've been reading and flipped ahead to see how many pages were left in the chapter. Other times a relatively short chapter has stuck out and broken my immersion.

    There are no rules. There's only what you want to achieve and how you can go about getting the results you want as the author.
     
  24. Greenwood
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    Greenwood Active Member

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    Thanks Raven484 and Aster.

    I recognize this as well. I guess then, that this has more to do with the content of the chapter than the length of it per-se.

    I am currently re-reading the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series by Tad Williams (It's from the 80's I think, so maybe the whole style of writing was different then, I don't know)

    I love the story and the world Williams has built, but some chapters are outright boring. Has more to do with a character I simply don't care that much about, and whose plot is just boring.

    What also puts me off a lot is that Williams is switching between 4 or 5 different POV's in one chapter. I hate this. In these books at least. For me, those are the moments I think "Ah, it's getting late, let's continue with this one tomorrow".

    Because of this I have sworn to myself to always limit a chapter to 1 POV. My novel will feature about 3MC's with 2 "lesser MC's" that won't be followed as much as the "Big 3" but who still have their own plots. This may mean shorter chapters, and long intervals before revisiting an MC and his chapters, but at least each one has a recognizable style and content.
     
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  25. Tea@3
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    Tea@3 Contributing Member

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    This sounds like a great approach.
     

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