1. Fronzizzle
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    Fronzizzle Member

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    Chapter setup - is there a right or wrong way?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Fronzizzle, Apr 28, 2014.

    Hello all,

    My novel is roughly 85K words, about 175 pages on my word processor. I don't have it split into parts, only chapters.

    Every I changed the setting, I made a new chapter. This ended up making the work 79 chapters, some of which were only 1-2 pages, and I think the longest was 6.

    The events of the story take place over ten days, so the only other way I could see splitting it up would be to make each day a chapter, then have multiple scenes in each one. However, that leaves me with ten long chapters instead of 79 short ones. Not sure if one way is better than the other? Thanks.
     
  2. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    I don't think there's a 'right' way, but I can say that, as a reader, I'm more often annoyed by too many short chapters than by too few long ones.
     
  3. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I've read lots of novels done either way. In my current project, a historical covering about 500 years, I started out planning to cover several specific eras, with each era having a chapter. I found it too constricting, and as I begin editing, one of the things I know I'll have to do is a reorganization of the chapters.

    BTW, bit of advice - if you are planning on trying to get it published, focus on word count, not page count. Also, 175 pages sounds like way too few for 85K words. If you submit any part of your ms to an agent or publisher (after querying, of course), make sure everything is double-spaced and that you have used a non-scalable serif font like Courier New, 12 pt. I do this even with first drafts to allow for easier editing.
     
  4. AndyC
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    AndyC Member

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    I try to respect the length of the scenes in my stories, so the chapters usually wrap around them. I usually end up with some short chapters and other long ones, which gives a little "variety" to the writing itself, I believe. At least that's how I like to do it.

    You could also try to arrange the chapters around a stipulated amount of words, like 2500 or 3000, for instance. I don't like to work like that, but I've seen other people do it that way.

    I'd say there's no "rule" about it, or even a "right way" to do it.

    Also, I want to second what @EdFromNY said here.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    there's no 'right/wrong' way... only what works and what doesn't...

    i don't happen to like 1-2 page chapters, but lots of bookbuyers must not mind them, or james patterson wouldn't be so rich...
     
  6. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Might not be the best way. You're thinking in terms of a scene as it appears in a film or play. But a scene, in fiction, is a unit of tension. It might help to think in terms of television. Notice that when they cut away for a commercial it's not in the middle of a conversation, or necessarily a change in location. Most often it's when the plot takes an unexpected turn of direction, or something unexpected is introduced. That does two things. First, it acts as a kind of punctuation, a sort of exclamation point. And second, it acts as a hook to insure that you don't switch channels to see if there's something you like better, elsewhere.

    Chapter ends are like that. The reader may stop reading there, for dinner, or a multiplicity of reasons. The last thing you want to do is break at a point where nothing important is happening because that reader might just not come back.

    Chapter length isn't critical, other than that the chapter be long enough to orient the reader. Two standard manuscript pages—500 words— is a number often recommended as a minimum, but I've seen ten word chapters that work, so it's a guideline not an edict.
     
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  7. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    @Fronzizzle

    I don't know how other people do it, but I found my own chapters function as mini-stories within the main story. Each one has a beginning, middle and end, and can be read that way. Each one seems to have a separate mood as well. Starting a new chapter often means starting in a completely different emotional place, even if the POV character hasn't changed. There are usually several 'scenes' within each chapter, but the chapter's 'feel' is continuous and unified.

    During a novel, it's normal for readers to put the book down at some point (or several.) A chapter's end often provides a good spot for this. A mini-story is completed, but the main story is not. Hopefully your main unresolved arc is strong enough for the reader to want more, and they'll return after they've had their dinner, come home from work, had a good night's sleep, whatever.

    I'd say think of chapters as if they are episodes in an extended TV series. They don't have to all be the same length—unlike TV episodes—but they should probably work that way, if you're telling your story in a conventional fashion. While some TV episodes end in cliffhangers, the majority end with something having been resolved. Because you want to know 'what happens next' you come back next week, even without a cliffhanger to drag you there. (In fact, cliffhangers can start to feel gimmicky, if they happen all the time.)

    Are you worried your chapters might be too short because they SEEM too short for you?—or are your doubts just based on word-count? Have you had any feedback on your overall story flow from other readers yet? Do your readers think your story feels chopped-up? It would be interesting to discover what other people think, before you decide whether to keep your format or change it. You might have done exactly the right thing, for the story you're telling. See if you can get some feedback on this issue, and you'll have a better idea of how your chapters work.
     
  8. Fronzizzle
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    Fronzizzle Member

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    Thanks for all the replies.

    The page numbers I put above were just for a guide, my work is currently NOT double-spaced. Just doing a quick font change (Courier, 12 pt.) and changing the spacing to double took the page count to 379. Of course, that means my short chapters are now mostly 3-4 pages instead of 1-2.

    With the new font and spacing, my first ten chapters by number of pages: 5, 3, 5, 2, 11, 2, 2, 6, 4, 4

    The chapters don't seem too short to me, no. The novel starts off with quite a bit of action in two separate locations, so the chapters above reflect that. Chapter 1 is the hit man watching his mark enter a massage parlor, wondering if he should go through with it. Chapter 2 is the potential victim getting ready for his massage. Chapter 3 is a separate bad guy breaking into a separate victim's house. As I'm changing which character has focus, it seemed like the chapters should change, too, especially since the two criminals and crimes aren't really related (though the victims are).

    Of course, having wrote that...when I looked through the work as a whole it struck me that 79 chapters was a lot, which is why I posted this in the first place. :)

    As I go through and do my final - or what I hope is my final - editing, I imagine that some of the chapters will grow naturally but I want to make sure I don't add words/pages just to add words and pages.

    I suppose the thing to do now is get the first few chapters where I want them and then post in the workshop and see if I can get some good feedback.
     
  9. Slade Lucas
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    Slade Lucas Member

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    I have read books that have very short chapters and sometimes it gets annoying, especially when the chapter doesn't even change the setting and only serves the purpose of attempting to be dramatic. But having said that I read a book where there were some chapters that were many pages long and then some that were a page or less - I think one was only three words long. It really depends - do you need to start a new chapter every time a scene changes? If not, just put a few chapters together and Bob's your metaphorical uncle.
     

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