1. UnrealCity
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    UnrealCity Active Member

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    Varying chapter length?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by UnrealCity, Jul 4, 2013.

    What are your thoughts on novels with varying chapter lengths? Is it distracting to have several short chapters and then suddenly a really long chapter? Or Vise-Versa? Should chapters take around the same amount of time to read? Would any target audience be particular about it at all?
     
  2. redreversed
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    redreversed Active Member

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    It wouldn't matter much to me, when I read I never pay attention to what chapter I am on.:)
     
  3. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    Well, I don't know about other readers, but I, for one, couldn't care less if the chapters vary in length. And, as a writer, many of my chapters vary, as well. It's all a matter of what you think is important to include in each chapter. I, personally, wouldn't worry about it.
     
  4. UnrealCity
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    UnrealCity Active Member

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    I know it's sort of a silly question :p The reason I ask is because I always start and stop at the beginning/end of chapters: If I read a couple of short chapters, and feel like a third, if the third chapter is suddenly really long it might distract me a little bit.
     
  5. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    agree with above - makes no difference. The odd time I might finish a chapter a think, wow that was short, but that's about it.

    Let the interest in your story dictate the length of your chapter :)
     
  6. UnrealCity
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    UnrealCity Active Member

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    I appreciate the comments - I'll try not to worry about it while writing, and focus on quality rather than varying lengths.
     
  7. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    If I were you, I would read one of Dan Brown's books. The man is notable for having chapters that vary anywhere for half a page to 20 pages. It all depends on the information that he wants to give the reader before switching off to another pOV or a different event (usually with a cliffhanger at the end of each chapter).
     
  8. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Focus on telling a good story instead of structuring it so that the chapters are uniform in length. Some writers do it automatically, just the way the think and write. Nothing wrong with that. Some vary in length. Nothing wrong with that.

    If it becomes a concern, once the novel is written, where there is a scene break, it could be made into a chapter break. Where there is a chapter break, it could be made into a scene break, if you wanted.

    I do know some friends that will look at a book and if it has tremendously long chapters (50+ pages) they may shy away, but that's very rare. I don't ever recall reading about or hearing an editor or agent saying they turned down a book because the chapter lengths varied too much. Maybe there's an example of it out there...but an exception rather than a rule.
     
  9. B. anthracis
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    B. anthracis Member

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    This^.

    Some chapters are going to be of different lengths. Sometimes a certain thread in a story only needs to be a few paragraphs while the other threads require more. I forget which specific book it was, but it was a Tom Clancy novel. He had three or four threads running through the thing but one thread was about a log that had fallen off a semi-truck and into the ocean. Each chapter about the log after the initial one was only a paragraph long; just enough to remind you the log was still out there. And it worked really well. IOW, don't worry about chapter length.
     
  10. Magical Writer
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    Magical Writer New Member

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    I can relate to this but its not a reflection of the authors work or chapter length directly. For me its because I'm too tired to read a long chapter and prefer to finish reading when the chapter ends. So i wouldn't worry about this as other people have already stated.

    Although i did read a book once (i think it was Eragon) and for some reason the chapter was about 3 words long. I just found that really weird :D
     
  11. maskedhero
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    maskedhero Active Member

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    I read chapters of varying lengths all the time. I've never cared how long or short one was, except when I WANTED to move on to the next chapter, but it was horrendously long, and I was about to head to sleep.
     
  12. JetBlackGT
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    JetBlackGT Contributing Member

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    The only ones that bother me are when the chapter ends but the scene does not. :( You go on to the next chapter and it picks up with the next person's addition to the dialogue, for instance. I am left scratching my head wondering why this is Chapter 22 now. It seems like the middle of chapter 21. Generally I never find out whey there was a break. It makes me think someone had to turn in 2 chapters that week so this was where they stopped writing.

    Slacker! Short chapters are kind of nice if you are reading the book in bits. It gives you a solid place to leave off.
     
  13. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    A lot of the time, authors attempt to cut chapters in places where they think it will leave the most suspense for the reader. For example, at the end of Chapter 1 of the book my friend and I are working on, the last line is dialogue that says...

    The next chapter begins immediately after this line of dialogue is given. However, should the reader say, "I really do need to stop after this chapter and go do _______," then we've given them the incentive to come back and read Chapter 2. It's just another one of those style preference issues. Sometimes it's done effectively (I like to think - or at least hope - that my use is effective). Other times, not so much.
     
  14. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    [MENTION=40060]Thornesque[/MENTION] - I would think that in the example you cite, there isn't any suspense for the reader because there is no break. Suspense comes from the reader understanding that something dramatic is imminent but yet delayed in the storytelling. The purpose of a chapter break is usually to switch the scene - a change of time or place. The reader's attention is directed elsewhere while all the while there is anticipation of a resolution.

    However, it's important to remember that you cannot manufacture or control the reader's reaction. Maybe (s)he'll put the book down right at your cliffhanger chapter end. That might mean suspense is lost, or it might mean (s)he comes back to it later, eager to pick it up again. (S)he might "cheat" and skip ahead to find out what happened, and your carefully built suspense will be lost. Nothing you can do about any of it, and so I wouldn't worry about it. Tell the story the best way you can, and let the reader approach it as (s)he will.
     
  15. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    No, I don't think I ever implied - or, at the very least, never intended to imply - that all readers would respond the same way to everything, nor that this method would necessarily work. I suppose, also, that the use of the word "suspense" was incorrect, as well. perhaps saying, "piquing their interest," would have been better phraseology.

    It's not that I intend for readers to not put the book down when they read it. It's that I want them to have a reason to want to pick it up again when they decide to take a break. In this given instance, stating the character's death isn't the answer, but more the question itself. The beginning of the plot. There's more, of course, to the chapter - more questions posed to the reader - than just that one. But that's the biggest.
     
  16. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    A chapter should encompass a complete scene or series of interconnected/related scenes which relate a specific and clearly defined portion of the story. The length of a chapter should not be based upon anything as superficial as how many words/pages are encompassed. The question of chapter length, to me, has always made about as much sense as... say a question like, "How long is a piece of string?"
    Which string are we talking about?????
    The string, as well as the chapter, is as long as it needs to be.
     
  17. ChickenFreak
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    I've more than once thought that this tendency to pause at a minor cliffhanger comes from television and the need to bribe the viewer to come back after the commercial break. That sounds snarky and condescending, and I really don't mean it that way. There's nothing inherently wrong with pausing at a tense unresolved point, but I think that there's a growing expectation that it's _always_ supposed to be that way, in all forms of fiction. It makes me think of the group of grammar prescriptivists that make requirements for English based on the standards of Latin.
     
  18. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with Thewordsmith—a chapter is like a mini-story within a story. It should have a beginning, middle, and come to a believable conclusion. This story 'roundedness' should be enough to keep readers on board. If they like your characters, and want to know what eventually happens to them, they will read the next chapter with confidence that you know what you're doing as a writer. And the next. There is no need to create contrived cliffhangers, or worry about whether one chapter is longer than another. Each one will 'fit' its purpose.
     
  19. CatnipCupid
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    CatnipCupid Member

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    I'm in the minority here, but I like my chapters short & sweet. Varying lengths are okay, for example: 8-10 for a couple chapters and 10-12 for others. some chapters are longer/shorter than others, depending on the story's needs.
     
  20. ArnaudB
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    ArnaudB Member

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    In agreement with Thewordsmith and jannert, a chapter is used to gather multiple scenes which are linked. That said stopping chapter at some points for suspense work well in publication chapter by chapter but not much in books, given that in the latter you've the entire story so cliffhanger don't have the same impact. I usually focus scenes and make chapters using theatrical basis of time and events to chose how I do that.
    As a side note I also use my chapter to pinpoint where I add "bonus scenes" which are scenes that is made from another POV than the MC. So in that case chapters are really just here to make sure I don't shove aside the MC in favor of showing secondary characters too much.
     
  21. bleeder4
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    bleeder4 New Member

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    A chapter is a single contiguous narrative set within the framework of a much larger body of work. It has a beginning, a middle and an end - it doesn't end once an arbitrary word count has been met, it ends once the story that chapter is telling has reached it's conclusion. I never even bothered to check the word counts of each of my chapters but, having just loaded them up, the lengths vary from 4800 words to 16000 words. At the end of the day, if someone is reading your book on a train or in their lunch break etc they'll only have a certain period of reading time - whether they read half a chapter, one chapter or two chapters in that time doesn't matter, they'll still have read exactly the same number of words during the time they have available.
     
  22. Steve Day
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    Steve Day Senior Member

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    It depends on the category of the work.(or: who it is written for)
    My g- g- g- generation- Vietnam- can handle longer chapters, while teh yout's, raised on teh TeeVee, have shorter attention spans. And their spawn, using hand held devices for both reading and writing, are happiest with those three word chapters mentioned above.

    I tend to break at a pause in the action, a scene shift, or where new characters get their turn.
     
  23. heal41hp
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    heal41hp Contributing Member

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    I don't think I've ever encountered a chapter of fiction that felt too long (or too short). However, as I'm sure everyone has, I've encountered textbook chapters that felt like they lasted for-ev-er.

    Actually, now that I think about it, I take that back. Every freaking chapter in the James Michener book I tried reading just went on and on and on and on... I'd often flip ahead to see how much more misery he had in store for me. I should probably take that thing back to the library. I think it was due about three years ago...

    I find the occasional super-short chapter to be quite dramatic if it's done right. It's clear something short, sweet, and epic is going on and we're just being teased with a glimpse of it, with more in store later.
     

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