Hatrack River
Hatrack.com   The Internet  
Home   |   About Orson Scott Card   |   News & Reviews   |   OSC Library   |   Forums   |   Contact   |   Links
Research Area   |   Writing Lessons   |   Writers Workshops   |   OSC at SVU   |   Calendar   |   Store
Print this page E-mail this page RSS FeedsRSS Feeds
What's New?
Uncle Orson's Writing Class
Chapter Length
April 1, 2004


I find it hard to write long chapters. At the current pace of action it seems to me that my novel will have a good length when I finish. Of course, that is hard for me to judge because this is my first novel. Also, I'm only at 3500 words so I guess it would be hard to judge anyway. The thing is, that at 3500 words I have my first chapter and a good part of my second chapter. I don't know if my pacing is too fast, or if I just don't know where to divide chapters. The truth is I don't know the rule for chapter divisions if there is one. I know it should have some sort of story arc, but I don't really know what is worthy of a new chapter. If you could just tell me some common problems that writers have with chapter divisions and maybe something you know that can help, that would be great. Thank You.

-- Submitted by Ben Scott

OSC Replies:

Chapter length is completely arbitrary. You can divide chapters however you want.

Robert Parker, for instance, uses very short chapters in his Spenser novels. Other writers have only five or six chapters in an entire novel.

Some writers divide chapters into sections from one character's point of view, so that the chapters change as often as the point of view shifts.

Some writers divide chapters after climactic scenes; others try to end them on cliffhangers or stunning revelations, so that the reader must turn the page and keep going.

Some writers (and now I'm speaking of myself) tend to begin a novel with short chapters, to create a fast-moving rhythm as the reader is just getting engaged in the story. Later chapters are much longer, on the presumption that the reader who gets this far is already interested and willing to read through much longer movements.

A chapter can be a single word, though this is a huge "special effect" that should only be done once in a career. But it's not rare to have a two- or three-page chapter at some crucial point in a book, because it needs to be set off from everything around it.

In other words, there are no rules. Just remember that each chapter break provides benefits - a sense of closure, of progress, of movement through the book - and imposes costs - a detachment from the story, a place where the book can be set down, an interruption in the onward flow. So you decide for yourself what rhythm and pace you want to establish, and when the costs of a chapter break are worth the benefits.

By the way, there are also "parts" and "volumes," which are longer than chapters and include them. These are used only when needed - they impose an even deeper division and greater cost, but imply a much stronger shift in time, place, or viewpoint, so sometimes these, too, are worth it.

E-mail this page
Copyright © 2023 Hatrack River Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.