Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Chapter One. Maybe.

I need some help and I want everyone to weigh in.  What are your thoughts on chapter length?  Do you prefer long chapters, short chapters?  Does it bother you if the lengths are inconsistent and there are some of both? 

I know that the perfect chapter length is just how long it needs to be to end in a place that will keep people turning pages.  But my chapter lengths seem to be all over the place and while I've tried to end in places that feel natural it's just not working. 


How do you decide where to place chapters?

And while we're discussing it, do you prefer your chapters to be numbered or titled?  I've always liked titles but I'm not good at titles and trying to come up with that many of them is daunting.

30 comments:

  1. Chapter length is what you want to make it. When I started my first book, I kept all my chapters to around 15 pages. But when I went back in to revise, I ended up changing most of them, so now, they're what they are. In some books, my chapters are 3 pages, others 27. It all depends on what I want to say, or rather what my characters feel they want to say in them.

    I would love to do chapter titles some day, but like you, I'm just no good at them. I stick to numbers.

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    1. I have a wide range of length too. I still hope I can pull some chapter names out at some point. I keep telling myself it's because I don't have my chapters finalized yet, and that when I do, the titles will be there.

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  2. I prefer short chapters. But I write (and mostly read) middle grade. As of my last two manuscripts, I always name chapters. 1) It helps me organize my thoughts--numbered chapters have no meaning, but named ones do. 2) It makes for easier revising--I can create a table-of-contents and go directly to chapters that I want to rework. 3) If I add or delete chapters, I don't have to go back and renumber--what a nightmare!

    And, I like chapters that leave me anxious to read the next one. :)

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    1. I have renumbered my chapters SO MANY TIMES. I really should start coming up with titles.

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  3. Short is better to me than long chapters of shifting scenes that don't feel like they are connected enough. Some books have chapters set by the calendar--August 1693 for example. That usualy means tons of different scenes and ideas. Better short than long, in my opinion. The more I work with my WIP the more I think it will be at most two or three closely connected scenes in a chapter...or only one scene, even if they are very short.

    I agree with Linda. I like short for the "turn the page, NOW" effect. ; )

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    1. I think I'm leaning towards short too. I've been breaking up some of my longer ones and I think that is helping.

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  4. I like short chapters, but like Linda, I write and read mostly middle grade. The short ones keep action flowing and keep scenes contained. Named chapters are awesome because it gives a clue about what is ahead.

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    1. Most people like named chapters and I really do prefer them. Guess I'll need to work on that.

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  5. Mine vary a bit. Some are only a few pages while others are more than a few. It's how ever long it takes to get the point across. Of course when I go back and edit, things change. I wouldn't stress over it :)

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    1. I wouldn't say I'm stressing, but I can't really put it off any longer. I'm glad most people seem all right with a variety of chapter lengths.

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  6. I'm a massively big fan of chapter titles--including numbers. I love reading books with chapters that are shorter than those I write, oddly enough. My chapters usually range from 3k-7k words in length, but average 4k-5k words.

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    1. Another one for titles. How interesting you notice a difference between the length you enjoy reading and what you write.

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  7. Well, it probably depends on genre and scene intensity, but I prefer shorter chapters (less than 10 pages). It makes the book feel like it's moving quickly rather than dragging. As far as Chapter titles, I don't like them personally. I think it pulls me out of the story. My goal is to have Chapter breaks be virtually invisible. If I end one chapter with a cliff-hanger (which is the goal for every chapter) then the reader starts the next chapter without hardly realizing they have. Title's stops the flow. But that's just my opinion.

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    1. I do want movement so shorter sounds good. I have noticed when book is really good I don't notice the titles until a later go around. Hmmm, something to think about.

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  8. I only like titles on chapters when they don't give away too much. And length? Whatever you want, just leave me wanting more at the end ...

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    1. Yea, it is more important to end them at the right place then to get the perfect length.

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  9. It depends on genre. I write YA, and my chapters typically range from 1500 to 3000 words. I love books with short chapters because they end up being page turners. If the chapter is short, it's easy to say, "One more chapter" and end up reading five.

    I don't pay attention to chapter titles or quotes used under the chapter heading. I'm not even sure what the point of the quotes is.

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    1. If the chapter is short, it's easy to say, "One more chapter" and end up reading five.

      I do that! I like the quotes at the beginning generally. Sometimes though I think the author has chosen poorly and it has nothing to do with the book, and I'm left to wonder if I'm missing something or if the author is.

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  10. I love chapter titles but I'm really not good at coming up with them. I wish I was better at remembering lines from my favourite poetry, so I could quote those, at least.

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    1. I thought about quoting the poem that inspired this novel but there's the whole getting permission to use it and paying royalties which is completely the authors responsibility. Hmm, I wonder what you need to do if the poem/quotes are public domain?

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  11. What an interesting post. I don't care what the length is, but the division needs to make sense. I also prefer the chapters to be numbered. I find the titles distracting. But I read mainstream or literary, not YA.

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    1. I never thought that titles may be more traditional in certain genres. Something more to think about.

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  12. Chapters usually need to finish on a bit of a cliffhanger. Not enough to send the reader into a complete tailspin, but enough for them to want to keep on reading. Length is irrelevant - but common sense ought to prevail.

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    1. *Snort* Common sense? The Engineer will get a good laugh over that.

      I'm trying to put the chapter ends at places where it feels natural, but I'm to the point where I'm second guessing everything.

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  13. Numbered chapters for me, please! And I don't mind variation as long as the chapter comes to a natural break.

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    1. Good to know, numbered chapters are beginning to edge into the lead.

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  14. Sara, The best rule of thumb is whenever you reach a stopping point in the current action...end the chapter. Or at least leave it with a hook so the reader turns the page to find out what happens. Stephen King once wrote a one word chapter. While I've seen chapters which were huge, I've also seen shorter ones. I tend to write shorter one because I do varying points of view.

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    1. I've had a couple places I wanted to do a chapter that was less then a page, I just didn't know if I could pull it off. I'm no Stephen King. I guess the trick is just to act like you can pull it off and maybe everyone will believe you.

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  15. I usually write long chapters with sections within each chapter. Kind of a "mini chapter" approach.

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  16. I loved reading through the comments to see what people think. I prefer shorter chapters with names. But names that don't spill the beans.

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