1. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Let's Talk About Chapter Length (again)

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by OurJud, Jul 31, 2016.

    My chapters are coming in at an average of 1,000 words. I didn't plan this, it just happened for the first few so I thought why not keep them all that length. One thousand words reflects a good session for me and I'm usually done for a few hours when I reach this target.

    Now even with my poor grasp of maths, I know this would mean about 100 chapters for a 100,000 word novel, which immediately set alarms bells ringing, as I don't recall seeing or reading a novel with anything even close to that amount of chapters.

    But then I asked myself, why should it matter? One of the novels I own has chapter lengths somewhere around 500-600 words long, but interesting the author/publishers have chosen to use a simple '>' to mark each one instead of a number. Was this done to avoid three-figure chapter headings which they felt would look odd?

    Can too many chapters be detrimental to your novel? Would too many put off an agent? You could argue that McCarthy's constant line breaks in The Road are simply chapters disguised as a complex style choice. If that were true, then his total chapter count would come in at multiples of hundred.

    I suppose the question is, what is the purpose of a chapter? I have to admit I'm not entirely sure. A change of scene? The passing of time?
     
  2. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    I can only talk about myself - who writes SCENES with a length of about 3.5k. A whole chapter comes to about four/five scenes, do the math ;)

    For me a chapter rounds up several scenes, each of which has a purpose and is more or less a rounded storyline in itself. The 'Techniques of the selling writer' explains the concept of scenes which I use. Consequently, a chapter should be a mini-novel, with its own aim. I am not positive that I manage that in the way it should be done rounded, but hey, at least I give myself points for trying :D
     
  3. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Now you see my chapters incorporate one scene. Is this good or bad?

    Not that it should be any great concern. Once I've reached my word-count target I can combine chpaters if necessary. It's just that when I get to the end of a scene, a voice in my head says 'new chapter'. It just seems so obvious.
     
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  4. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think it matters one bit, although I agree most authors with a high number of chapters don't number them. My guess is it's becoming even less important now e-readers are so common, and you can put a book down at any point without losing your place.

    I've never seen any agent give advice about chapter length, and I've read a LOT of agent advice. :D If a publisher had an issue with your chapters I'm 99.9% sure it wouldn't put them off the book: they would just ask for it to be changed, with some chapters combined into longer ones.

    FWIW mine average 2.5-3.5k and usually include 1-3 scenes.
     
  5. ChaosReigns
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    ChaosReigns Be Still and Know Contributor

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    it depends on how you feel as a person, I've read some of James Patterson's books and on more than one occasion, a chapter's been ONE LINE, and others have been several pages in length

    equally, i'm writing something that doesnt have chapters in the strictest of senses, as i'm using the time gaps/POV changes in the plot to break it up, and it can go from a few hundred words to a few thousand words...
     
  6. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    A couple disadvantages to short chapters - if a chapter=a scene, you've lost one useful tool for dividing up your story. Does that make sense? Like, you're doubling up. If you've only got one POV character and a really linear structure, this may not be an issue, but sometimes you may want to be able to use scene breaks to indicate scenes, and chapter breaks to indicate, say, shifts between characters, or geographic shifts or storyline shifts or whatever else.

    The other disadvantage is totally artificial, but it's that a lot of agents ask for submissions to include, say, the first three chapters. If we operate on the idea that we want them to see as much of our work as possible before deciding whether to ask for more, chapters of a 1K would mean that the "first three chapters" agent would see only 3K words, which really isn't a lot...
     
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  7. cjones636
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    cjones636 New Member

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    I like to write short stories. I consider a story 10,000 words and under a short, and i keep each chapter at 1000 words.

    If my story is 7000 words, my chapters are 700 words (7000 devided by 10). I like to try write my short stories with at least 10 chapters
     
  8. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    My chapters averaged 10 pages, 3500 words. I like each chapter to be a clean story in itself. Some are setting up a conflict for future resolution, others setting up the conflict. Very occasionally one is a change in pace, nothing much happening and chance for the characters to talk about themselves.

    But I have no rule... like @OurJud said, you reach a point where it screams "New Chapter!"
     
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  9. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks, all. Some genuinely interesting opinions, views and pointers here.
     
  10. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Herman Melville's Moby Dick - surely one of the most famous works in American literature - has 135 chapters. Don't worry about the number of chapters you have.

    My own chapters tend to be long - roughly 8,000 to 11,000 words each. My first draft had only eight of these chapters. I expect there'll be ten or eleven of them in the second draft, but I'm only beginning that now.
     
  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think both your points are very well made.

    I know I would be concerned that my story is too 'choppy' if all my chapters were only 1000 words or so. However, it depends on the effect you're going for. Terry Pratchett famously didn't use any chapters at all because he thought the story should be read as a whole. Agents would struggle with the 'first three chapters' request from Mr Pratchett! They'd get three whole novels. :)
     
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  12. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Blimey O'Riley! When I read I HAVE to finish a session at the end of a chapter, so I would struggle greatly with yours. I simply could not read that much in one sitting.
     
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  13. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Why? I never pay attention to chapter breaks when I'm reading. I generally think they're entirely artificial anyway. I just set the book aside wherever I happen to be in it, and take up next time wherever I stopped. Chapters schmapters!
     
  14. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like to stop reading at the end of a chapter, too. I certainly wouldn't want to stop mid-scene, so I'd at least want a scene break or something. I feel like a scene is a complete idea, and I don't want to break off in the middle of an idea.
     
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  15. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    But with chapters you know exactly where you're up to when you stop. You're either on a cliffhanger or something has just been resolved.

    Analogy: Finishing a chapter before stopping is like watching an entire episode of a series. Doing what you do is like switching an episode off before it's finished, and then watching the rest the next night.
     
  16. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I have several scenes in each chapter. You can stop reading at the end of a scene, if it suits you.
     
  17. AASmith
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    AASmith Contributing Member

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    I think one should take into account the overall length of their book. It can be daunting to look at a 50 chapter book vs. 25 chapters. It makes the book seem more broken down and longer. I also don't necessarily break up by chapters per scene. Some chapters have more than one scene in it. I indicate this by double spacing between paragraphs and/or not indenting the first sentence of the new scene.
     
  18. AASmith
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    AASmith Contributing Member

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    By the way. I stop reading whenever i happen to stop. Sometimes i get sleeping midway through a chapter, im not going to keep reading until i get to the end.
     
  19. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's interesting that you say that because I think the exact opposite. The more chapters, the less intimidated I am by a book.

    I haven't started on it yet, but I'm guessing I'll sail through McCarthy's The Road, because he has a line break about every third paragraph. I know these aren't chapters, as such, but if they were I would feel the same way.

    I can't really explain the logic, but if I were asked to sit and read, let's say 8,000 words of a novel, I would find it a damn sight easier if those 8,000 were divided into 8 chapters, rather than 3.
     
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  20. AASmith
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    AASmith Contributing Member

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    No that makes sense and I can see what you mean
     
  21. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It doesn't matter to me one atom's worth. 8,000 words is 8,000 words no matter how they're divided up.
     
  22. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    No, I just don't see it like that. The end of a chapter, at least to me, is saying, 'Okay, phew! That's that bit over. Take a breather. We'll have a change of scene and get on with the next exciting instalment.'

    Whereas one long chapter is saying, 'Okay, this happened, and then this happened. That was then followed by this, which was followed by this. And then this happened, and then this happened. Wait, wait, don't go anywhere yet, because after that this happened, then this happened.'

    Long chapters in books are such a turn-off for me that I gave up on Fahrenheit 451 when I realised it was chapterless. Well that and the fact I wasn't enjoying it very much.
     
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2016
  23. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    But as a reader how do I know I have reached the end of a scene until I read the next paragraph or maybe several paragraphs? I am beginning to suspect that older people, OurJud I think is over 50, may prefer shorter chapters. For me it gives me a point to stop and have a chance to remember what was going on, maybe even to think about it for awhile before I pick up on the story again. However I only read a brief amount in a given session and usually just at the end of the day, sort of a bedtime mental preparation to unwind. Short chapters rule, otherwise I drool - fall asleep, and laugh if you will but when you get on in years you'll find out.
     
  24. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You'll know you've reached the end of a scene because there will be a gap of a line or two before the next scene starts.

    I, of course, laugh at your comment about age. I'm 55, already on in years, and I don't care about chapter length. :D
     
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  25. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    I very much beg your pardon!?
     

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