View Full Version : Does it matter how long chapters are?
October 8th, 2004, 04:29 AM
It there a word limit for a chapter in a book?
October 8th, 2004, 06:04 AM
Absolutley not. After reading William Goldings revision of "Princess Bride" I believe you could go on for a very, very long time. Of course, it would be nice if you had a chapter two after that...
October 8th, 2004, 11:10 AM
Someone gave me some great advice on chapters once.
A book is actually a series of short stories joined together. Each chapter is a short story. They are as long or as short as they need to be to move the characters and the overall master plot to the next story/chapter.
October 8th, 2004, 02:02 PM
I write big chapters. 8000 words and over
October 9th, 2004, 11:27 AM
The same for me, James. I tend to start worrying when my chapters run over the 11 thou mark, but the dratted things just don't want to be any shorter! :rolleyes:
If you look through a few contemporary novels, the average chapter size tends to be much shorter than this, but there are no real rules on the issue.
October 9th, 2004, 11:34 AM
Yep, I've structured my first novel in such a way that it has to be like that. By the way, (as a fellow Englishman) I'd like to welcome you to these great forums. Check out the sticky threads for writing advice.
Look at the old threads too, we had some good ones a while ago. Check out my synopsis too, if you like, I'm trying to get it straightened out. ;)
Welcome to sff :D
October 9th, 2004, 11:37 AM
Thanks for the welcome, James :)
October 9th, 2004, 12:06 PM
There is no limit on how long or how short a chapter has to be. In fact, you don't need to have chapters at all, if you don't want any. If you do have them, they can run for hundreds of pages or be one paragraph long.
A novel is not necessarily made up of a series of short stories. However, if that concept helps you plot and write your story, more power to you. There are novels that are made up of linked short stories. These are called episodic novels. Episodic novels are more common in science fiction than fantasy, as sf writers often write a series of short stories, publish them in magazines and then put them together into novel form. I just finished one such novel, "The Martian Chronicles" by Ray Bradbury. The episodic novel, however, is not considered a strange alien format in any genre of fiction.
There is a rabid school of writing (aren't they always rabid) that insists all novel-length fiction must have short chapters. Because of this, many writers attempt to write short chapters and worry needlessly about chapter length. They will write 3 page chapters, not realizing that 3 double-spaced pages of manuscript will usually boil down to only a page and a half of printed text. Short chapters can be an effective and punchy style, if it is one that works with the story and is feasible for the writer. Short chapters can also create the impression for readers that a great deal of narrative time is passing without very much actually happening, slowing the pacing of the work.
In longer material, it is possible to break up the text without using chapter breaks by instead using scene breaks. Scene breaks are indicated in printed text by the use of several blank lines, and occasionally with asteriks or folderols of some kind. Scene breaks may be used anywhere, anytime, after a short or long amount of text, in the middle of a scene that then continues after the scene break, or to end one scene or block of exposition and start another. A scene break can be used to switch character point-of-views within a chapter, but you are not obligated to do so just because you use a scene break. There are no limitations on how scene or chapter breaks can be used or not used.
Anyone who tells you that you cannot, in your own writing, do one thing or another, or that you must, in your own writing, do one thing or another, is well-intentioned but nonetheless engaging in censorship. It doesn't matter if that person is a best-selling or prize-winning fiction writer, a publishing professional, a writing instructor or someone who is just really well-read. If you bother to look, you will find numerous published examples that refute any such claims about what you must or must not do in fiction writing, regardless of whether the claim is considered to be applicable to first-time writers, genre writers, or all fiction writers. In the case of chapter length, it's not even a contest. Go have fun SubZ.
October 11th, 2004, 05:57 AM
One of the best SF writers of all time, John Brunner, was a magnificent short chapter worker.
They are great for snappy, jet-propelled tales that beat the reader over the head from minute one and carry on hammering. Unfortunately they don't lend themselves easily to the kinds of pace variations you see in novels with much longer chapters.
The answer can only be: depends on the tale.
October 11th, 2004, 12:05 PM
I agree about what has been said above. Just don't think about your chapters' lenght and voilą - you have your own style.
My chapters have the tendency to be pretty short in the beginning (maybe around 2000 words in English) and towards the end they get longer (to even 6000-7000 words) until in the very end I have again very short chapters (1500-2000 words) with numerous scene breaks after short passages. That's the way that my writing "wants to be written" and I'm not going to do anything about it :)
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