This is topic long chapters in forum Open Discussions About Writing at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by micmcd (Member # 7977) on :
What's the general consensus on chapter length? I usually don't give it a second thought, but in one of my WIP's I'm faced with the dilemma of a long block of continuous, very important action.

Of course it's possible to break things up, but I was wondering as to the opinion of the assembled wisdom of this forum.

Do you have a length over which you are loathe to go? Do you feel that it can annoy the reader if most chapters are on the order of 1000 words, and suddenly you drop in a 5000-word block?

Posted by mikemunsil (Member # 2109) on :
I would expect your reader to have gotten into the rhythm of your writing, and that by dropping in a 5X length chapter you are going to break that rhythm. Do you really want to do that to a reader? Perhaps you should take a harder look at why that chapter is so much longer than the others?

That said, if you know why you are breaking the "rules", go ahead and do it. If not, figure out the "rules", THEN break them.

Posted by micmcd (Member # 7977) on :
I'm of the opinion that breaking rhythm would annoy the reader - particularly that they don't have an opportunity to put the book down and come back to it (or perhaps that's a good thing...). I know there's not a hard and fast rule. Just wondering how annoying everybody finds variation in chapter length.
Posted by Meredith (Member # 8368) on :
There's naturally going to be some variation. I find my chapters average around 2500 words. When I vary from that, it's often a shorter chapter, especially when building towards the climax. I usually don't worry too much about the length until a chapter reaches twices the average--about 5000 words. Then I look to see if I can reasonably break it into two.
Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
I figure a good length for a single chapter in a novel would, ideally, be a good length for a short story---say, three to five thousand words. But I've read and enjoyed books with chapters much longer---and much shorter---so there's no hard-and-fast rule on this.
Posted by satate (Member # 8082) on :
As a reader I don't really care about chapter length. If I have to stop reading then I will, whether it's the end of a chapter or not. I'm more annoyed by really short chapters than long ones since chapters stop the story and make me pause.
Posted by Crystal Stevens (Member # 8006) on :
My chapters tend to vary in length depending on what's going on in them. In one of my manuscripts, I have chapters that vary from about 7 pages to 20 pages. It just depends on what's going on at the time to get that particular chapter to the next feasible stopping point. I usually won't go much beyond 20 pages. I believe that would be 5000 words?

Also, I've read books that will have fairly long chapters and then drop one in that's only 2 or 3 pages. The timing is okay because what the chapter is about is complete. I feel that's more important than trying to have each chapter the same approximate length. If the chapter is cut off in the wrong place, it definitely won't sound or feel right to the reader. Anyway, that's how I look at it .

Posted by aspirit (Member # 7974) on :
I've read that a good guideline for a novice writer is to average 15-to-20 chapters, consisting of three or four 750-to-1,000-word scenes each chapter.

What's more important, though, is what works for the flow of your story. In his Dresden series, Jim Butcher uses a single scene for most chapters, which are average length (I think about 10 to 20 pages). I didn't notice this until I was on maybe his fifth novel, because the pace of each novel is so quick. I've also read and enjoyed novels with about 1,000 words per chapter. The chapter length of one of OSC's novels jumps to about 40 pages in the middle, then drops down again.

My fiction collection and old writing journals are currently in boxes at my new house, so I can't provide details such as novel titles and a source for my first paragraph. (My memory isn't good enouh, neither.) I hope this helps, anyway.

Posted by Starweaver (Member # 8490) on :
It annoys me to suddenly face a chapter that is much longer than the others. My reading time comes in pockets, and I like to get some kind of closure at the end of a reading session. An occasional short chapter is not a problem; I can pick up something else or read an extra chapter if it seems I can fit it in.


Posted by WBSchmidt (Member # 8533) on :
I like reading books where the chapters are of consistent length. Sometimes I do not have much time to read and can only read one chapter in a single sitting. Knowing the chapter length allows me to plan on how much reading I can do. On the other hand, I like reading books where chapters have breaks within them so that if the chapter runs longer than I have time for I can stop at one of the breaks and continue on later.


Posted by philocinemas (Member # 8108) on :
In order to maintain consistent chapter length, which appears to be preferred, have you considered using a cliffhanger to break the chapters?
Posted by kingtermite (Member # 7794) on :
As a reader, I tend to prefer shorter chapters. Mainly because when its night and I need to turn out the lights, a chapter is a good stopping point. If the end of the chapter is only a few pages away, its not as irksome to me than if its 27 pages away.

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