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Chapters too short?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Aosto, Jul 30, 2013.

  1. Aosto

    Aosto Sage

    So, I've noticed a trend in my writing where my chapters are extremely short. Each is a scene and delivers something to the story, but it's short none-the-less. My recent chapter 4 is only 550 words give or take a few.

    Do you find this bothersome in your reading? Do to short of chapters turn you off from a book? Or do you think it helps the pace any? I've also noticed I leave off with a significant cliff hanger at the end of every chapter.
  2. Jess A

    Jess A Archmage

    James Patterson is a best-seller thriller writer and he uses short chapters. A lot of people like this because short chapters make the book a page turner and increase the pace considerably if done right. I personally don't like his books, but for a thriller it's a good way to leave lots of little cliffhangers so the person will go straight to the next chapter and 'can't put it down'.

    I think if it works for your story, then go ahead with it. I'm not sure how it would read in a fantasy novel, but you could put it in Showcase and see what people think. I think personally I like longer chapters, but that's just me! I'm one of the few people who doesn't like Patterson (at least, where I live; I sell books).
  3. Aosto

    Aosto Sage

  4. Spider

    Spider Sage

    Is this your first draft? If so, I wouldn't worry about the word count at this point. After you finish your first draft, you can always expand on your chapters, add more details, etc (if necessary). End each chapter naturally and don't force more into the chapter just to increase the word count.

    If I had to choose between really long chapters and really short ones, though, I'd choose the short chapters. I've never found myself annoyed with short chapters.
  5. Aosto

    Aosto Sage

    This is my first draft. I agree that I prefer short chapters. In the rate event that I get to read, I like to squeeze in a few chapters. But if they are 10k words each, is hard to find a good stopping point.
  6. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    Five hundred words in manuscript form is two pages. If you're talking about an actual printed book, or e-book, it's probably going to be about one and a quarter to one and a half pages long. That's a pretty short chapter as a standard length. As an occasional length...no problem. As a standard length, I might have concerns.

    Increased pacing with short chapters is fine if the author is making a conscious decision to do so for an effect & if that effect works. In this case, you seem to have noticed the brevity rather than chose the method.

    I agree with the others that if it suits the story, then fine. Story trumps all. However, I have to ask some questions first before I could give an informed opinion.

    1) How much of the story has been written so far?
    2) How many POV characters are there in this story?
    3) Besides the main plot, are there any significant sub-plots?
    4) As a general idea, are you considering this a novel length work or a novella?
    5) How would you rate your knowledge of your characters, your setting, and your plots? Are they well developed?

    I ask the last question, because I've noticed in my own work, my chapters always seem to get longer as the story progresses. I attribute this to knowing my characters and other story elements much better than when I began...I have more relevant material to write about, if you will. Usually my early chapters hover around the 3k mark before editing. By the end of Act One, I'm looking at about 6k per chapter on average. Granted the current WIP is an epic with six POVs so the comparison may need some adjustment.

    Another consideration would be the combination of scenes into a single chapter. It's common. You certainly aren't restricted to one scene per chapter.
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2013
  7. Tirjasdyn

    Tirjasdyn Scribe

    There is no such thing as standard chapter length. I have a fantasy books where chapters are only a page or two, and books with only one or two chapters spread over an entire book.

    Current trends are towards shorter chapters. I find this in newer books. I say don't worry about it. Write what you need to now and later you may find yourself adding to or combining chapters as needed.
  8. Nihal

    Nihal Vala

    Guy, be careful with "it's the trend now" sentence. Not all trends are good and the excessive use of trends "date" your work. Do you wish to pick up your book in some years and say "Oh, it was surely written in 10's!" or do you want it to be more timeless?

    I'm with T.Allen.Smith: If it serves your story well it's okay, however, it doesn't hurt to ask some questions.

    My particular point of view is: Yes, long chapters tire the reader, but the excess of short chapters tire the reader as well. I wouldn't like to read a book with a new chapter every page; I would wonder if the writer doesn't know that he doesn't need to start a new chapter every time he changes the scene. Bear in mind this is my opinion as a reader.
  9. Jess A

    Jess A Archmage

    Cheers, had a quick look (on my way to bed). Story looks intriguing, but to me I would find those chapters short for my liking. It wouldn't stop me reading it though. And if it's what you like to read, then write what you like to read. Isn't that what everybody constantly says around here? ;) You're going to get mixed opinions on everything you do.
  10. Aosto

    Aosto Sage

    Thank you, everyone. I'm sure the chapters will gain some bulk in the second draft. I'm just getting the story on paper for now. Adding in what is required and will put in the fluff and extra later.
  11. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    That's what matters though, is that you get what's in your subconscious down now. And add other stuff in later. I personally like shorter chapters because I'm a power reader. I think they add a bit of intensity in especially when the story is in the thick of conflict. So that could be one strategy.
  12. Vicki

    Vicki Dreamer

    I have read at least one book that had a chapter containing one word. It was very effective and impressive.
  13. Addison

    Addison Auror

    There's no set rule for chapter length. It's entirely up to you. If the short chapters work for you then go with it. If they alternate between long and short, so be it. Through out literary history each author has shown their preference of stories in their writing. One book I read my first semester, I keep forgetting the name, was hundreds of pages long but was only six or so chapters long. Others could be only two hundred pages but be forty chapters.

    Chapters are a form of pacing, in my opinion. Like having a short paragraph after lots of long ones or a long one after lots of short ones. When and where the chapters come and go is a form of pacing.

    But most important is to decide on chapter length by your own preference. It's your story so the length is a part of your style.

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