Chapter Length

In my book, Telling the Tale: The African-American Fiction Writers Guide, I devote a chapter to a discussion of how I develop chapters from scenes.  Since my first book, I’ve roughly gone with 15 page chapters with 3 5-page scenes. That’s just a rough guides. Some of my chapters are longer, some shorter, some have more scenes, rarely do they have fewer.  The rule-of-thumb really worked for me.

I’m also a scene-sequel writing, even though many of my sequel are implied and not explicit.

When I was on the Soul Expressions Author Tour, I had the chance to discuss book construction with some other authors.  Victoria Christopher Murray shared that she wrote her scenes as chapters. That really intrigued me so I decided to try it with my work-in-progress. Guess what? It’s working pretty well.

What I’ve found is that there is no room for sequel; they’re all implicit rather than explicit.  I also think the “scene is chapter” construction makes the book move faster.  We’ll have to see what readers (and my editor) think.  I may end up having to combine of the scenes into chapters during the revision process, but that will be pretty easy to do.

Tonight I took a few minutes and when back and looked at one of Victoria’s books.  She’s not a strict “scene is chapter” writer.  Some of her chapters consist of multiple scenes, but most of them are single scene chapters.

What I also found in Victoria’s book is that her chapters tend to be much shorter than mine. I’d guess her longest chapters were 10 pages, most were shorter.  I also checked books by Jacquelin Thomas and Kimberla Lawson Roby.  Their longest chapters tended to be around the 10-11 page limit.

When I looked at my books, I found that my shortest chapters were around 10 pages.  Most of them were around 14 but there were some with 16 pages and 18 pages.  In general, my chapters tended to be longer than the chapters of the other writers that I investigated.

So what do you like best — longer chapters or shorter chapters?  Do you even notice chapter length when you’re reading? To be honest, I hadn’t noticed and I read all three of the aforementioned authors on a regular basis.

Let me know your thoughts on chapter lenght

5 thoughts on “Chapter Length

  1. Actually, I do notice, for a variety of reasons. One, like you, I examine the books of published authors that I admire (including yours) to learn from. Two, as a reader, occasionally I find myself wondering why a scene or a chapter hasn’t ended yet. That says something to me. Sometimes I think the scene would have been better if there was an ending in there, either to start a new chapter or switch to a different POV. Sometimes I think the chapter ending is just in the wrong place.

    I’m okay with chapters as short as a single page or as long as 20 pages if the breaks feel like they’re in the right place when I’m reading. It depends on the type of book and the pacing. Faster paced books tend to have shorter chapters. Slower paced books longer chapters. I think many really good books have a mix, depending on what the story calls for.

  2. The shorter the better. Victoria’s model is the one I’ve followed in my work and it’s really because that’s what I prefer to read. I think the pacing is better when they’re shorter.

  3. When I write I prefer shorter chapters. For me it’s because I keep each character fresh on the readers brain by doing it that way.

    When i read I do notice chapter lengths and sometimes I want the chapter to end but it goes on like the energizer bunny. lol. It doesn’t bother me all the time though. It’s very rare.

  4. I like the shorter chapters. It makes reading quick and makes we anticipate the next chapter. Also, when I have to stop reading for whatever reason, it’s easier to stop at a chapter break.

  5. I prefer shorter chapters…no more than 10 pages…one of the reasons that I feel in love with James Patterson’s writing was the short chapters. Long chapters actually annoy me and slow down the reading process for me.

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