1. Dragon Turtle

    Dragon Turtle Deadlier Jerry

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    Which is worse: inconsistent chapter length or inconsistent POV structure?

    Discussion in 'Novels' started by Dragon Turtle, Feb 22, 2018.

    Before I start, I must apologize for the amount of detail I have to include in this post to explain why I'm hung up on this. :p

    The background info: I'm working on the second installment of a fantasy trilogy. The first installment had four POV characters, A, B, C, and D. I kept things to one POV per chapter. Character A had the most chapters, taking up just under half the book. I had no particular pattern for the order the POVs came in; I would just write whoever's chapter needed to come next in the storyline. Usually this meant the same POV wouldn't appear twice in a row, but there were a couple exceptions where A appeared twice in a row because otherwise some of his chapters would have been unusually long (like around 10k, whereas most of the chapters were 3-6k).

    I thought nothing of it at the time, but then I read advice from an agent or editor that you should have a clear structure for how you arrange multiple POVs, as this is like a roadmap for the reader. I have never run into this advice in my life but once I read it, I started to worry about it. Then one of my beta readers asked me what my "POV strategy" was and I was like, uh, crap.

    Now. In book 2, Character A is in a different geographical location from B, C, and D. (Also, because I decided life wasn't complicated enough, there's a new POV Character E, but D doesn't have any chapters in the first half.) So there are two storylines running in parallel, A and B/C/E. However, there's a lot more going on with A. So much that even with B's, C's, and E's chapters combined, I cannot match the amount of page space A is taking up. I'm talking like 8000-word chapters for A, with 2k-3k for another character in between. Worse, some of those B/C/E chapters are kind of looking like filler, just to keep A from having two chapters in a row. It's starting to feel ridiculous.

    That said, the parallel timelines don't work out well enough for me to have something consistent like A-A-B-A-A-C-A-A-E. The story is really demanding something more like B-C-A-A-E-B-A-C-A... you get the idea.

    So, that brings me to my initial question. Which bothers you more as a reader: wildly inconsistent chapter lengths, or wildly inconsistent POV order?

    OR, option 3: How do you feel about books that go A-A-A-A-A-now let's jump back in time to-B-C-E-B-C-E? I wanted to avoid that at first, but it's starting to look tempting...
     
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  2. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I don't mind either one, but the one where I say, "Huh? Why would I care at all?" is chapter length.
     
  3. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

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    I don't think either one matters much, but chapter length consistency less.

    The only thing I'd be wary of is going really long without picking up one character's narrative thread, because then you risk a reader losing investment in or forgetting what's going on with them. I know I used to read a lot of those sprawling epic fantasies with tons of POV when I was younger, and I definitely remember it being a problem occasionally -- I'd end up going "Wait, who is this guy and what's his whole deal again?" and having to flip back, find his last chapter, and refresh my memory. In fairness, that's an issue exacerbated by really thick prose, too, which is (was? I don't know) kinda common in that genre. Less of a concern if your style isn't so ... gosh, I'm really trying to think of words that don't sound disparaging here, but all I'm coming up with is 'overdone'. Whoops.

    Anyway -- I'd be much more concerned about filler chapters! You don't want that, for sure.

    I will say that in working on one WIP, which had two POV characters, I would keep in mind about how long each of them had been going on and tried to change it up somewhat regularly. It still worked out that one or the other would end up getting a longer segment here and there, but I always tried to even it out. In this case, it was important to me that neither of them seemed too much like the main character. In another wip, there is a definite main character, but I give each of the other characters one chapter each, interspersed somewhat evenly, in their POV. So is A your main character? If so, it makes sense that they get the most screen time. If not, you might have a problem.

    I'd also seriously consider what plot changes you can make if evening things out feels important. Do the other characters need POV chapters at all? Maybe it'd be smoother if it was just from A's perspective. Can you involve them in the main action more, so that there's more meat to their chapters? If you want to give them screen time, they have to have something important to do, or yep, you're gonna end up with filler. I'm thinking consider the content and pacing more than some road map nonsense (yeah, that's a new one on me too; ditto the concept of a POV strategy) -- maybe your somewhat erratic POV switchery, while not a problem itself, is a sign of a problem.
     
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  4. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Chapter length? I'm with @ChickenFreak, why would that matter at all?

    As for different POVs, in my book the majority is one first person POV. Near the end I bring in another first person POV for some scenes my main character is not present for. He's a transition character that will play a part in the second book with a different main character first person POV.

    It's turning out quite nicely.

    In The Young Elites the author simply switches to third person POV for the scenes the protagonist is not present for and she uses first person POV for the rest of the trilogy. That works fine as well.

    Concentrate on the story. Worry about structure last after the story is well developed.
     
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2018
  5. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    I couldn’t care less if chapter length is consistent.
     
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  6. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Possibly asking about your POV strategy was not to find out if you've mapped one out, but simply to discover your reasons for choosing POVs. It's a good question to ask yourself. Keeping in mind that few authors can handle umpteen POVs, for the reason @izzybot touched on. If too much story time goes by between sections of a particular POV, folks can forget about that character, and have to backtrack to remind themselves what this character was doing when they were last seen.

    That can be remedied by using a subtle 'recap' every time you return to a character. Remind the reader about the character in the first sentence or two of the new scene. Say something about what the character was doing the last time we saw them, or remind us (again) of the character's importance or relationship to other characters. Don't just start up as if that character was the POV in the previous chapter. Re-orient the reader. It's a nifty little trick and once you get in the habit of pulling it, you'll find your POV changes are smooth and easy to follow.

    I only write one novel at a time, although I am currently writing a sequel. (A one-off sequel.) I have two main POV characters and two minor ones, who mainly take over when the two main characters are not in the story frame. I'm not writing epic fantasy. However, I believe that the fewer POVs you have, the more your readers will identify with the important ones.

    Joe Abercrombie's First Law trilogy has surprisingly few POV characters, considering the scope of the story. There are three major ones. Jezal, Glokta and Logen, whose stories make up the three main plot arcs. And a few minor ones: Dogman, Ferro, Major West. I can't remember if Ardee West also has POV chapters, but I don't think she does. And yet, the story is complex.

    I don't think there are any rules as to how many POV characters you can have. Some authors choose multiples, others choose only one. Keep in mind that a single POV character means you can only show the story through their eyes, but the reader will settle in to that perspective and will live there quite easily during the unfolding of the tale.

    Add in more POVs, and you have the problem of yanking the reader in and out of the characters' perspectives. If you give a particular POV character several chapters before switching to another, then readers can settle in a bit, although they might feel disgruntled when you do change. If you give each POV character only one chapter before changing POV again, you will be able to cover a lot of territory, but at the expense of immersion. Readers won't allow themselves to get too immersed in a story if they know they're going to be yanked out of it and placed somewhere else in the space of a chapter. It will keep readers at a distance. If your story can take that disruption, then it does give you lots of scope to tell the story. Just figure out how to do it the best way you can.

    Chapter length? The only chapter length I will notice is one that is very very short. Like a page or so. Even then, I don't mind, as long as it has a purpose that is separate from the chapter that went before and the one that follows. I think I would mind if every chapter was only a page long, though. It would seem too choppy, unless very well handled. However, like so much of writing, you won't please everybody. Just don't be too influenced by people writing blogs or articles about how to write. They can give you ideas, but their word shouldn't be taken as law. Read enough of them, and you'll discover all sorts of contradictions between them. Let their ideas fuel your own, and maybe make you aware of problems in your own writing that you hadn't realised were there. But write YOUR story, and use the best method you can devise of telling it. If your best method is to use multiple POVs, then learn what you can about how to make this work. If you want to use multiple chapter lengths, learn how to make THAT work ...and also learn about the pitfalls you can encounter while doing it.

    If you force yourself to write to formula against your natural inclination, (x number of POVs only, x number of words in a chapter, x number of chapters, etc) your writing is very likely to sound like it was written to formula. Don't kill off your enthusiasm by worrying too much about formula. In my opinion, the best writers are the ones whose writing formulas and habits aren't obvious. Kind of like drivers. The best drivers are the ones whose driving technique you don't notice.
     
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  7. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I have had editors suggest that chapter lengths should be consistent. I'm really not sure why, but some of them care.

    POV structure? Sometimes I resent it when I only like one or two of the characters and the book spends too long away from them, but that's kind of unavoidable! Or at least, the problem is that I'm only interested in one or two characters, rather than that the POV structure is inconsistent.
     
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  8. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    Huh, that's interesting. I did a load of research into this for my word length FAQ, and I couldn't find anyone anywhere who seemed to care about it - I couldn't even find data for chapter lengths for really popular books, which added to me thinking it was a non-issue.

    I'll update the FAQ to include your experience, if that's okay?

    To the OP: Before Bay's post I would've said nobody cares about chapter length but I've seen specific publisher guidelines saying split POVs should be roughly equal. But it appears both might matter to publishers... hmm. Tricky.
     
  9. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I think if you're writing for one of the more formulaic lines at some publishers (like Harlequin/Mills & Boon) things get, well, formulaic. I've seen requirements for 60:40 ratios for heroine:hero POV, etc.

    I'm trying to remember which publisher wanted the chapter lengths to all be the same - I think Entangled (which is a small publisher but has had NYT best sellers) but it actually may have been Berkley (which is part of Penguin). But those are the two most formulaic/trope-driven publishers I've worked with, in m/f romance - there are probably other genres that care less.
     
  10. LarryM

    LarryM New Member

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    My chapters are almost never consistent in length. Chapters end when I want to the story and/or action to switch to something else, regardless of length.
     
  11. DeeDee

    DeeDee Contributor Contributor

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    Are those editors at publishing houses or the editors that offer to polish your manuscript before you send it out? The latter may be just repeating what they read somewhere else on the internet :D. What they probably mean is that sometimes an author spends too much time describing one scene because they enjoy it (and making it into a really large chapter) then neglects the next scene because they didn't enjoy writing it (rushing through the events and ending up with a really short chapter). For a beginner writer it might be easier to aim for chapters of similar length, until they learn how to pick and choose things that need to go in and things that need to stay out.
     
  12. surrealscenes

    surrealscenes Senior Member

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    I would hate to attempt to read something with consistent chapter lengths.
    I would also hate to attempt to read something with inconsistent pov.
     
  13. Mink

    Mink Contributor Contributor

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    On chapter length, if it bothers you, you can always cheat like Stephen King does. The recent books I've all read have been broken down into thick segments and then he breaks that further down into: 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. are all written in various lengths in various point of views that vary from each thicker segment. I've hijacked this own method for my writing because sometimes I'm not going to be able to write 3k long chapters or sometimes I might write more. Plus, I know I've enjoyed reading his books that have this method of break-up.

    I don't think chapter length really matters and I'm entirely fine with books involving POV being variable.
     
  14. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    No, these are editors with publishers. I think Entangled and/or Berkley, but I can't remember for sure. (I remember being annoyed at having to figure out new chapter breaks, but I can't remember who asked me to do it!)
     
  15. Dragon Turtle

    Dragon Turtle Deadlier Jerry

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    It was entirely because of comments from industry professionals that I thought chapter length might matter. As a reader I very rarely notice it. It's interesting to see how many of us agree with that. I guess it makes sense that it would apply to certain genres more than others, though.

    First Law is actually the only time in recent memory I've been really thrown by someone's POV structure, and it was because of how it appeared for most of the first book that there was only one POV per chapter, then suddenly there were multiple POVs in a chapter. The system he was actually using, it turned out, was one location per chapter, but that wasn't clear until quite a ways in. Didn't ruin my enjoyment of the story or anything, it was just weird to get used to.

    I understand this in theory, but for me as a reader it's never really been the case. It's a very common structure to use in epic fantasy and it hasn't ever bothered me; sure, I get dismayed for a few seconds when I have to switch to another character, but that's all part of the fun.

    I'm confident readers aren't going to forget who the POV characters are even with long breaks, as A, B, and C are very entwined with each other. (D is a little more problematic but, sigh, I still need to figure out what to do with her.) But I will be sure to throw in some subtle recaps at the beginning of each chapter so the plot threads are clear. Hell, even I got lost once when I was rereading some of the chapters in order. It's that geographical issue I mentioned, where A is far away and before they were all together.
     
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  16. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    Entangled is one of the publishers I've seen ask for an even POV split, although that was in certain lines only.
     
  17. Reollun

    Reollun Active Member

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    Inconsistent chapter length shouldn't be a problem at all, because different characters will have different stories in a different setting, and it's quite logical that chapter length should vary according to the demands of the plot. I don't see any reason why chapter length should be consistent, especially in longer novels with multiple POV's and plots and subplots. However, chapter length could be a problem if one of your POV's always tends to have extremely short or long chapters. I've had POV's with over 7k words of chapter length and the ones with just 2 or 3k, but recently decided to split the largest chapters because I combined too many scenes in only one chapter.

    As a reader, I don't like overly long chapters, because I eventually grow impatient to see where the story's going. If I'm spending too much time reading a single POV chapter, it might feel like the plot is dragging.

    I agree with what other posters said about POV order. You should try to avoid having large gaps between two character POV's, and when the plot demands that there should be an extended time span between two POV chapters, try to briefly re-introduce the reader with your POV's situation at the start of the chapter.
    Having a POV strategy is a good thing, in my opinion, as it makes your job easier, but it shouldn't be considered as a rule that needs to be followed at all times.

    If you have POV's that appear as fillers, that's a bigger problem. You'll need to sort it out on your own and decide what you want to keep and what to drop. Obviously, POV's that have no plot (or subplot) of their own and don't drive the story forward should go.

    Take The Lord of the Rings as an example: Books I and II follow the Fellowship of the Ring. After the Fellowship is split at the end of Book II, Aragorn leads the remainder of the company through Rohan, while Frodo and Sam continue their journey to Mordor in Book IV. We have the same situation with Book V which follows the War in Gondor while Frodo and Sam make their way to Mount Doom until they all re-unite in Book VI.

    George Martin has many POV's and a complicated story arch with a tangled chronology. A Storm of Swords picks up the story before the events described in the Clash of Kings are completed, for example.

    One solution that I'm considering right now is bringing POV's together and interlinking their (separate) storylines so that one POV is affecting the other and both are driving the plot forward. You describe one POV through the eyes of the other, and the reader is informed of what's going on with his story without you having to write a whole chapter just for that purpose. When you later decide to continue with the POV's story, the reader will have all the essential information he needs.
     
  18. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    I have heard editors who like fairy consistent chapter lengths, but as a reader it doesn’t matter to me. And I’ve seen plenty of traditionally-published books with widely varying chapter lengths, so maybe most editors don’t care so much?
     
  19. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Get off my Balzac... Staff Contributor

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    I'd add that timeline and sequence of events will have quite an impact on the perception of the POV structure and vice versa. If the plot follows a straight timeline you will have more leeway as to which POV holds the "camera" at any given point in the story because the events themselves (in theory) should keep the reader on track, especially if all the characters and focused around the same plot. An example of this would be something like, oh, let's say a story about 9/11 where you always have the towers burning in the background (or foreground?) while the POV shifts between rescue workers, victims trapped in the building, some secret agent dude at the Pentagon, etc. The story is marching forward to an inevitable conclusion regardless of what the characters are doing or which character gets to tell a particular part of the story. Probably a bad example, but it's all I can think of right now.

    Obviously you if you have multiple POVs in disparate locations following separate plots along inconsistent timelines, you're going to need to do a lot more work to keep the reader interested.

    An interesting case study here. Maybe not terribly relevant to this discussion, but I've always found it fascinating. Remember that the books hop all the way back in time when Frodo and Sam's POV returns. In Book II we see Aragon and company go through the entire Rohan and Helm's Deep thing for half the novel, but when Frodo comes back, we hop all the way back to their original parting and go from there for the other half of the book. Notice that the movies didn't do this at all. Those cut back and forth between Aragon and Frodo in a consistent time sequence where each POV (for the most part) was centered around the same event. That was a brilliant move on the filmmakers' part. To structure the POVs like originally told in the books would have been a disaster.

    As for chapter lengths, I don't have much of an opinion. I can see why certain publishers like a more formulaic structure, but as a reader I couldn't care less. I don't think I would worry about it too much. If an editor/agent likes the content of the story, switching the chapter lengths around to fit a certain model should be a relatively easy fix as far as editing problems go.
     
  20. The Green Marker

    The Green Marker New Member

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    Honestly? Both are alright if they're done right. If the different Points of View are clear and distinct from one another, then it should work. As long as there's a reason for the chapters to be drastically different lengths, then I'm alright with that.
     
  21. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Contributor Contributor

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    Varying chapter length is not a problem.
    Varying POV sequence is not a problem, as long as it does not disrupt the flow of the story.

    I am going to venture a guess in that the beta reader was not attacking the story as a reader, but more as an author with asking "what our POV strategy is." Maybe the reader pointed out why the current "POV strategy" is a problem and why it was a problem, and if you had a method that you were implementing.

    Authors as beta readers are great as they can not only spot something as being wrong, but suggestions on how it might be addressed, where as many readers are more along the line of something isn't working (inconsistent character actions, for example) and may or may not have a recommended fix. Because, in truth, most readers don't care about strategies or techniques. They are far more interested in reading and enjoying a story.

    Can a POV strategy add structure to a novel? Yes. Can it also box in a novel/storyline? Yes. So there should be some flexibility in it.

    Okay, that's my two cents.
     
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  22. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Yes; it seems entirely possible that the conversation could have been:

    "What's your POV strategy?"
    "One third person limited POV per chapter. No particular sequence. I have a total of X POV characters."
    "OK, then."


    Was there a conversation, or just the question?
     
  23. CoyoteKing

    CoyoteKing Good Boi Contributor

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    I’ve read this book, I think, so I guess I’m cheating. (Unless this is a different book.)

    IMO, your book does have a structure. The structure is:

    Miko is the most important character. He’s introduced first and has the primary POV.

    Taji is introduced second, he’s second most important, and has the second most POV.

    Thea is third, she’s introduced third, and has the third most POV.

    Kirhan is introduced last, is the least important, and has the least POV.

    The ratio was 4:3:2:1. It makes sense, and it felt right reading it. It was like a cascade effect. The story starts out exclusively from Miko’s POV, but then as each main character is introduced, they take over a little bit more of the story... until the very end, where the story is only like 40% Miko and 60% everyone else.

    You don’t need a strict POV pattern or chapter length. It makes sense how it is.
     
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2018
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  24. CoyoteKing

    CoyoteKing Good Boi Contributor

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    I guess what I’m saying is, the way you have it arranged right now makes intuitive sense, even if it doesn’t follow a strict pattern.
     
  25. Dragon Turtle

    Dragon Turtle Deadlier Jerry

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    There was a conversation, but she didn't have a strong conviction either way. Her final point seemed to be "I'm not sure what you're doing but it's not necessarily a problem." I think I was just primed to worry because of that agent advice I read.

    You're not cheating, you're just one of the test drivers! Okay, I like the way you laid this out. The sequel does complicate things but maybe I should stick with my gut at this stage.
     
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