1. The Piper

    The Piper Contributor Contributor

    Dec 28, 2016
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    Shorter Chapters

    Discussion in 'By Writing Form' started by The Piper, Mar 20, 2018.

    Hi everyone,

    I know word count per chapter isn't hugely important, and a lot of authors don't worry about it at all, while some stick as religiously as possible to a certain wordcount or number of pages for each chapter.

    Personally, I'm not too bothered, but most of my chapters just happen to have ended up at 1800-2000 words each. The problem with this is, when one chapter is a completely different length it throws me off. I've just finished the first part of a story I'm working on and I've got two glaring problems:

    1) one chapter is just over 3000 words. It could easily be split into two sections - one would be the right sort of length, but the other would be shorter than the rest, at 1300. Is it best to do this and have a shorter chapter, or keep it long?

    2) the last chapter of this part is only 1000 words. It sort of takes the previous chapter in a direction towards part two and rounds it off a little. I could add it to the previous chapter, but that had quite a nice little ending and I don't want that to be spoilt.

    I know there aren't really rules for this sort of thing, but in terms of personal opinion, what do you think? Does anyone else worry like this about chapter wordcount? Any suggestions would be really appreciated.

    Thank you,
  2. GlitterRain7

    GlitterRain7 Galaxy Girl Contributor

    Jun 24, 2017
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    Depends. Would the contents of the chapter fit in better in one chapter or two?
    I say don't merge it if you like the previous chapter the way it is.
    I worry about word count, so I understand. During the beginning of my WIP, I made the decision to make sure each chapter was at least 2,000 words. If it wasn't, I'd add something else in to make it longer. The reason I did this is because when I was working on an earlier version of my WIP, I had no minimum word count, and therefore, some of the chapters were really short. So I had to make a minimum so I didn't make that mistake again (It's okay though, I wrote that earlier version before I got serious with crafting a book. It's a constant learning experience.)
    My advice is, if you can add in something relevant to make the chapter longer, do it. If you can't, don't worry about it. Your long chapters will make up for the shorter ones.
  3. Indigo Abbie

    Indigo Abbie Member

    Mar 16, 2018
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    I don't blame you for being confused and or concerned. Especially with my first writing project, now on hold indefinitely, chapter length was a major problem for me. I had an outline, and went in depth with it... to mask procrastination probably, but I found a lot of my chapters being short except for one. I reached a point where I had little memory of what happened in which chapter because I had changed them up without really updating an outline or anything. I had been convinced I had 5 or 6 chapters, and it turned out I had 4.

    My current project has been a blast to write even though I'm dealing with two problem scenes, and I have enough action in it to compile one, two, or three incidents per chapter. This may be a writer sin, but honestly I haven't broken it into specific chapters and don't plan to until revision, something that may come back to bite me. Personally, when I read a book I don't care about chapter length at all. I started out reading Terry Pratchett's Discworld series and as far as I can remember he had no chapters in his.

    One more thing that may or may not be helpful, until just recently I thought a chapter was limited to... the event of one or two days. I don't know how that ever got into my head, really, but I've been reading the first Harry Potter book. (Yes it did take me this long.) One chapter spanned like a week or more, I was baffled at how easy it was for someone to just slip in "a week later" and not throw me off a bit. I'm awfully young and a new writer, but I've been a reader for quite some time and I have no clue how I'd never seen that done before or if I just never paid attention to it. So I've altered my perception of what content decides a chapter and it's been eye-opening.

    I think it all comes down to how much information you're conveying, if the chapter feels complete where you leave off, and if the information or incident is relevant to advancing your story. If you can reach all of that in 1800-2000 words, or it requires 8000 words, then congratulations you have a good chapter.
  4. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

    Aug 8, 2015
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    I can't find the original thread I had posted on, but I figured this necro would draw some attention.

    I recently got to talk to an agent, a big five veteran author, and an editor who all agreed on the topic of chapter length. While they don't speak for the industry as a whole of course, they all agreed that consistent chapter length is an important part of making a professional looking book, and the agent went so far as to mention inconsistent chapter length as a major red flag that will make her pass on a book--because it is almost always due to underdeveloped material.

    I'm going back through my WIP and making an effort to get all of my chapters in the 10-15 page range, which seems to be acceptable by their assessment.
  5. Caffrey

    Caffrey Member

    Apr 9, 2018
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    I tend to make my chapters a length that encourages the reader to think, 'just one more chapter before...'.

    Hefty chapters are too easy to put until tomorrow; short punchy chapters make them crave one more hit.
    Richach likes this.
  6. Mr. Raleigh D

    Mr. Raleigh D Member

    May 19, 2017
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    Atlanta, GA
    I was told "the hell with page numbers and word count". Treat each chapter as a small, short collection of stories that are interconnected into one big story. That's just my opinion on the matter, I could be wrong though.
    Richach and The Piper like this.
  7. Xoic

    Xoic Active Member

    Dec 24, 2019
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    edge of the spacetime continuum
    This seems bizarre to me, like the kind of thing that could only happen in today's world where digital and electronic devices make it easy to concentrate on all the wrong things for all the wrong reasons. Worrying about chapter length, and the only parameter being "they should all be about the same" seems ridiculous to me. It should be organic, shouldn't it? Each chapter, like each story you write, finds its own necessary length. To add more just to 'balance it out' is adding fluff to what's already perfect (assuming it already does what it needs to do). In fact it sounds like an excuse for obsessive compulsive publishers to force people to cater to their own foibles. I would immediately be suspicious of anyone claiming to be a professional editor or publisher giving such meaningless reasons for changes to a story. I would expect their reasons to be along the lines of "because it makes the story better", not to balance some meaningless numbers or tidy things up in a way that assuages their own personal compulsions. Though I have no doubt there are many such editors and publishers.

    Especially in an age when demographic studies and focus groups and questionnaires have replaced gut instinct (or you know—actual artistic knowledge) for making decisions on artistic matters. Those are ways for mathematically-inclined people (the bean counters) to try to make decisions in areas they're completely unqualified for. "Let's look at the numbers". No—writing is not about numbers.
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2020
  8. Lifeline

    Lifeline North of South. Contributor

    Oct 12, 2015
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    On the Road.
    My chapters are miniature stories; some of them introspective, some actiony. I guess there is a term somewhere: 'scene' and 'sequel'. But that is beside the point: Which is that my chapters end somewhere that gives the reader a question to follow up on in the following chapter—which presupposes that there is a beginning, buildup, and end to each individual chapter. In turn, this usually ensures that my chapters are not less than a certain length. A certain number of words is needed to evoke the reader's engagement in the scene (which is around 3k, sometimes more, very seldom a bit less). As everything in writing, this is not a hard and fast rule, and it is only mine.

    In my first WIP, I once had a 'chapter' that was 600 words long. If a reader opened the story to this scene, he might encounter two people who say they love one another and are sad to be parting, but the reader wouldn't know why this mattered. It was too short with not enough information given to engage him emotionally. This warning example of how a chapter should not be is never far from my mind.

    Write to engage the reader. Give him enough information to get him invested in this particular chapter, and you won't go wrong with length.

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