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Chapter length really does matter...or does it?
Tawni Peterson
Posted: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 6:41 PM
Joined: 5/10/2011
Posts: 69

I am in a bit of a quandary over a certain chapter in my current WIP. It is falling a bit shy of the mark the other chapters in the story are hitting (or at least ranging around). There is a natural break in the scene, and I could start a new chapter, however the scene and chapter this far could stand alone. My dilemma is this: should I go with the natural break and fall short of the range of the other chapters? OR do I move on the next scene and keep both scenes in the same chapter? My concern lies around the idea of pacing. Will a shorter chapter, in the midst of several loner chapters throw the pace of the read? I am curious to hear what my fellow BC comrades have to say about this. What would y'all do?

Danielle Poiesz
Posted: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 7:05 PM
I think you're overthinking this one, lady

It's totally fine to have chapters of varying lengths! Break it where it's natural. That will keep your reader most interested than forcing the structure into a tiny little box. Obviously, you don't want 100 super short chapters or like 10 super long chapters, but you can definitely have a 25 page chapter, for example, and then later have a 12 page chapter. It's all about how the writing flows. It's going to wax and wane, and that's ok!
Tawni Peterson
Posted: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 7:15 PM
Joined: 5/10/2011
Posts: 69

Overthinking...ahhh that glorious modus operando of mine! Thanks Danielle. Sometimes this newbie just needs a little vote of confidence!
Tawni Peterson
Posted: Wednesday, August 31, 2011 12:31 AM
Joined: 5/10/2011
Posts: 69

@Dawn, I actually participated in your thread on chapter length and referenced it before I posted this one and really appreciated the comments I found on your thread! Thanks for the input here!
Jay Greenstein
Posted: Wednesday, August 31, 2011 4:05 AM
As I see it, the thing that matters is the hook, not the length. No one is timing you, and no one finishes a chapter and compares it to other chapters. As long as you haven’t given them a convenient stopping point they’re going to go on, and that’s what counts.
J Boone Dryden
Posted: Saturday, September 17, 2011 1:54 PM
Joined: 5/7/2011
Posts: 42

Originally I had nothing significant to add to this conversation (others having already said what I would have), but I've recently begun work on an overhaul of a project, and I'm finding that this issue has come up.

I'm working with plotting and outlining this go-around, and I'm trying to put about 4 or 5 scenes per chapter. Each scene, though, seems to vary in length from anywhere between 900 and 3000 words. My problem -- perhaps like you -- is that mechanic and structure make a big difference to me, because when I read pieces I generally look at them for those things to see if they are an integral part of the story. Thus I feel like my decision on chapter length and the like will affect others' readings of the story.

I agree with others that it ought to be what feels right. I would also say, though, that as I'm writing this I'm feeling that I will most likely revisit each chapter upon revision to try and balance things out to make them more equal, only because I feel a sense of rhythm in that.

*shrugs* For what it's worth.
Tawni Peterson
Posted: Saturday, September 17, 2011 8:34 PM
Joined: 5/10/2011
Posts: 69

@J Boone,

It’s great to hear other people's process. Thanks for sharing yours.

I use a VERY loose outline. I have never tried to structure a scene that way but perhaps, once my current WIP is in revision i may need to take a look. I am about 1/3 of the way through this project and am interested to see how the rest of my chapters unfold.

I agree with you that there has to be a strong sense of flow and rhythm to hit the right pace. I think much of that is so subjective and will depend on personal instinct, preference and the story itself. However, the more I add to the my craft skills and learn about structure in composition, the more I question my "instincts." So, of course, as in most things there is a balance to be struck. (IMHO)
(*humble* opinion )
Katherine Webber
Posted: Tuesday, September 20, 2011 11:52 AM
Joined: 8/22/2011
Posts: 14

I am so glad there is a thread about this! @Tawni- I have the opposite problem I feel like the chapters in my WIP are too long! I want to try to divide them up into 2 chapters but I can't decide if that will be strange to have two chapters occurring in the same time frame, setting, etc. To complicate it further my focus is fantasy for a YA/MG audience- so I keep worrying that a younger audience wants shorter chapters. aiya.

My own personal dilemma aside- from a personal reader level I couldn't care less about the breaks of chapters. If it is interesting I will keep reading- whether or not there are chapter breaks. I have never been the kind of reader to stop when I come to the end of a chapter- especially if there is a cliff hanger! The only time I paid attention to chapters is when I was little and my mom would read out loud to me- I always wished they were longer!

But seriously I don't think chapter lengths matter all that much if the content is good and keeps the reader interested.

Posted: Tuesday, September 20, 2011 3:58 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 245

I've read YA books that were only 8 chapters long. I've read YA books with double digit chapter counts.

I've always heard it that we're supposed to break the chapters where there's a) a natural break or b) a moment that will compel the reader to turn the page saying "Just one more chapter". Preferably both.

If that chapter becomes 20 pages and the rest of your chapters are only 8, so be it. Chapter breaks are there for a) pacing and b) teasing.
Atthys Gage
Posted: Tuesday, September 20, 2011 6:25 PM
Joined: 6/7/2011
Posts: 467

I agree with stephmcgee.
Attention span is not exactly my best quality. I generally like short chapters, and try to keep mine brisk (my novels have all had a YA slant, so I think shorter is better.)
That said, I've read 50 page chapters that I couldn't put down.
What Jay Greenstein said is right: hook is what matters. Does the end leave you wanting to read more? Even if you put it down at that point, are you still thinking about what comes next?

The worst for me are chapters that just seem to end without any kind of dramatic flair. Whether it's cliff-hanger or closure, try find something memorable and grabby.

Stevie McCoy
Posted: Wednesday, September 28, 2011 6:12 PM
Joined: 5/5/2011
Posts: 38

You should break it where it feels natural.
Take for instance the book "Forgotten" There is literally a chapter in there merely 1 page in length so around 269 words (average words per a page)
Lengths should be used to drive the story forward and if a chapter falls into the short category then think about if it helps the book by being short, does it add suspense? Does it flow well between the chapters?

In this case if it feels right then keep it like that because it is meant to be.
Corny, yes, but true.
Some pages are 1 page, some are 20 pages long... I've read some that are longer.

Go with the flow, my friend.
Tawni Peterson
Posted: Wednesday, September 28, 2011 10:13 PM
Joined: 5/10/2011
Posts: 69

Thanks @ Stevie. I ended up breaking it where it flowed. It seems to work for now. We shall see how it all pans out.
Posted: Thursday, October 13, 2011 3:58 AM
Joined: 8/28/2011
Posts: 7

I personally like the randomness when it comes to chapters. I've read books where chapters were 60 pages and some that are 1 page long. I remember reading a book a long time ago that had three words in the chapter. It was odd at first but when I thought back on it I actually liked it. Writing a book is an art form, why stick to a planned layout?
Alexandria Brim
Posted: Tuesday, December 27, 2011 4:27 AM
Joined: 10/20/2011
Posts: 353

I used to worry about chapter lengths as well. I thought they had to be long to be acceptable. Then I was reading Diana Gabaldon's "Outlander." A few of her chapters were only about two pages in length. And they were perfect that way. And I realized that it didn't matter how long they were, only if they ended in logical points.

It was just another stop on my long road to discovering that there is no perfect way to write and to just let go, placing trust in my story.
Rommel Luna H
Posted: Friday, February 10, 2012 7:57 PM
Joined: 1/20/2012
Posts: 12

One of my books has a chapter that is eight words long. Is not a gimmick; it is that long (or I should say: short) for a reason.
So, I am of the opinion that size doesn't really matter, as long as the size is such that serves the story.

Alexander Hollins
Posted: Monday, February 13, 2012 10:41 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 416

One of my favorite books in terms of chapter length is a kids book. Sideways stories from wayside school. it has 30 chapters. One of the chapters is nearly a quarter of the book. One of the chapters is 10 words long.

And it works.


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