Long or Short?

Talking about chapters. How long or short should chapters be? That depends.

I pulled out an old manuscript of mine to send to my critique group and realized from their feedback that I had done a typical new writer technique – I had crammed as much as I could in the first three chapters. It really needed to be broken up into six or eight. 

At their suggestion, I took out chunks and made new chapters; and didn’t think about it again until I randomly pulled a book to read while browsing in a bookstore. The story sounded interesting and I had a few moments while my husband chased the kids. I wanted to read the first chapter, then I would know if I wanted to buy it or not. 

Uggg, ten minutes later, and I’m still in the first chapter. I skipped ahead – the first chapter was twenty-six pages long. Now, this was not a well known writer. And there were at least five scene changes in this one chapter. I flipped through the book and the first three chapters were over fifty pages! 

It gave me the impression of not only a new writer, but a long-winded one. By the same token if all the chapters had been extremely short, I would have thought the writer not good at pacing or too vague.

Needless to say I put the book back. I might have been more willing to buy it if the chapters had been more readier-friendly.

So now what? If you are a writer how long should your chapters be? 

Here’s my advice – take what you want and throw out the rest. A chapter should be long enough to say what you want. 

Too vague? Ok, in my own writing, I say no more than one or two scene changes per chapter. If there are more, it’s time for a new chapter. I’m not saying all chapters should be short, there should be a variety. 

If a scene is taking on too many pages, you can always create two or three chapters instead. There’s no law that I know of that says you have to have one chapter per event either. 

Finally, take a look at authors you like. Flip through their books. How long are their chapters? How many scene changes per chapter? Are there chapters that break up a scene? How?

Now apply the answers you’ve found to your own writing. And remember, one day someone will look at your book in the store to buy it-please don’t make the mistake of enormously long (or too short for that matter) chapters.

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