1. Ruloris
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    Ruloris Member

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    The Fear Of Manuscript Length

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Ruloris, Oct 15, 2009.

    A prominent problem that I've thought about quite often was one that didn't have a black or white answer to. Chapter length. In a manuscript a friend brought to my attention, it held fairly astounding characters, both dynamic and easy to relate to, as well as a fascinating plot. Some of the good things of actual writing, no?

    The problem I noticed with this MS was the actual length of the chapters. Most only stood to be four or five pages long. I myself am not published, but I do have the common sense to understand one page typed on the computer will pan out as it's condensed into book length. And that is their goal, to publish the MS into novel form.

    The paragraph length seems fine. Action scenes are short and quick - to the point. The more passive scenes are laid back, giving you the information as it comes along. Yet no matter the place in the book, the pages end at roughly the same area.

    So my question to the community: Is it wrong to have these chapters end at relatively the same place, length wise? Or let it pass, considering the chapter told what it had to say, and no more.
     
  2. Cheeno
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    Cheeno Contributing Member

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    Chapter length is relative to what needs to be covered. If it meets its purpose, it really shouldn't be an issue, though too many overlong chapters in a row may be detrimental to readers with short attention spans.
     
  3. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    I'm not sure what you mean by "letting it pass." Is it your manuscript or your friend's? At the manuscript stage, if the writing and storytelling is as "astounding" and "dynamic" and "fascinating" as you describe, the length of the chapters alone will not be a deal-breaker (in terms of finding an agent). That can be easily addressed at some crucial point down the road, and I've seen and read plenty of books with chapters that are quite short, myself.

    If, on the other hand, the author of this manuscript (you or your friend) is concerned about what's "typical" of the type of story it is, just go to the library or bookstore and count the words on a page for a similar genre story and figure out how many words a typical chapter has in comparison to the manuscript. Be sure to look at several, though, because there's a good chance the chapters break where they need to and not just because it's x-number of pages.
     
  4. Ruloris
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    Ruloris Member

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    By letting it pass, I meant to just ignore the fact the chapters seem so short, and allow the writing to speak for itself. From my experience, chapter length is only relevant to how much the chapter should cover. IE - Let the story tell itself, and try not to skimp on detail, or overload with it.

    By dynamic and astounding, I might have been a bit too carried away with my description. It is a family member's manuscript, and I was a little intrigued with how well they made their plot/characters.

    My only fear from the issue was a teacher's advice at one particular time. She stressed that the more action packed scenes should be shorter. Hard, descriptive words that really bring the point home. But by these chapters having roughly the same length, some longer ones end up being as short as... the shorter ones.
     
  5. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    My opinion is that chapter length should be the least of his or her worries. But if you read a chapter and feel like it ought to be linked, for some reason, to the one that follows or precedes it (or the story or scene expanded), that kind of impression from a reader is probably important enough to pass on to the writer.
     
  6. boo
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    boo Member

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    Length of chapters doesn't really matter. Kiss the Girls by James Patterson (best seller) had about 115 chapters and was 500 pages or so. Other books I've read only had five or six altogether and these were 300 or 400 page books. Chapter length is like page length...it varies according to the story being told. It also depends on POV.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    there is no 'typical' length for chapters... and writers should not let what others' books look like influence what they feel is right for their own work... as boo alluded to, patterson is fond of 2-3 page chapters, while other successful writers like seemingly endless ones... the determining factor should only be your own writing style, plus what each chapter needs to have in it, to be a good read...
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I would be annoyed if the novel consisted of a couple hundred chapters, most of them under a page in length. But chapter length is an author's choice. If the break points make good sense, then it doesn't matter how far apart they are.

    Trust your instincts. If the chapters feel too short, consider putting more scenes in each chapter. Or it may be that the scenes themselves are too lean.

    Chapter length is probably one of the least important things to worry over. More often than not, if it looks like a problem, the real problem is deeper.
     
  9. Fox Favinger
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    Fox Favinger Contributing Member

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    This is something I hadn't thought about until I realized my first chapter was 10,000 words! That seems kind of long to me. But to make things worse my chapter was already divided into three parts already. Each part was about 8-12 pages and ended with a page break to signal the day has come to an end.

    The three part went like this:

    1. The setting character's are introduced as well as the MC's internal conflicts.
    2. Second day, MC seems to have found a resolution to his conflicts, more characters are introduced
    3. Bam! MC comes into work to find bodies everywhere, a long car and foot chase follows and the whole chapter ends on a thrilling note. Plot takes a new direction.

    Now would it be better for the reader if these three parts were divided up into three chapters? My whole objective for the first chapter was to build up the little world the MC lives in and by the end it was to be completely destroyed in an instant. I have accomplished this goal but it took a lot more words than I thought.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Some authors don't break it in to chapters at all.

    Really, don't sweat chapter length.
     
  11. Fox Favinger
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    Fox Favinger Contributing Member

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    Ok. Chapters always were just numbers to me. I keep track of things with the page number.

    I end the chapter once I have completed my objective. Since my objective was completed I am satisfied.

    In an extreme case The first part of one of my stories took 50 pages. It was divided into various parts though so the reader could keep track of the time. I think of them as parts of the plot rather than groupings of pages.

    Also I just observed this about my writings, I always start of with a specific time, date, and location and with my current novel I start every section with a line from a continuous monologue. I think dates and dialogue are more meaningful than numbers, but that's just my style.
     
  12. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I agree, chapter lengths aren't that important, though, I do naturally vary them a bit, between 2000-6000 words.

    The way I do chapters is minigoals within the big story. Each chapter my character has a goal. When she gets it or fails to get it, the chapter ends. On top of the minigoals, she has the ultimate goal. When she gets that goal or fails to get it, the novel ends. I also have some goals that extend to more than one chapter, sometimes several chapters.

    That's just how I do things.
     

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