Monday, November 28, 2022

Chapter length


How much do agents care about the length of chapters?


I've read many times that most of 'rules' don't matter as long as the writing is good, BUT, as any writer trying to find her place under the stars, it's my job to obsess over any/every little detail that will get me to procrastinating. :D


Jokes aside, I personally love short chapters that are packed with action and keep me going through them without breathing. Dan Brown executes them very well, but he is already established in the publishing industry.


Since I aim to get traditionally published, I wanted to know whether the length of chapters plays a role with agents and/or publishers?


And I'm talking short, not long. :)





James Patterson has elevated short chapters to an art form, and a he's hauling a lot of cash to the bank these days.


There is no one answer to this because like a lot of things about writing: it depends.


If you're writing a high octane, page turning thriller, short chapters are a good tool for keeping up the momentum.


If you're writing atmospheric character driven suspense novels, you don't want people on the edge of their seats, you want them reading more slowly and building dread.


So, it all depends on what you're writing.


I don't count words in chapters when I'm considering a book for my list.


It's only if I feel whiplashed, or as if I'm inside a pinball machine, that I go back and assess whether the chapters are too short.


If you want an example of a writer who uses long/short chapters to great effect in the same book, check out Dana Haynes' Fiero and Finnigan series, starting with St. Nicholas Salvage and Wrecking. Yes, I sold those books so this is not a truly objective recommendation.



This is place beta readers can be of help. But be careful what you ask. Not "are the chapters too short?" Rather: did you get confused? Did you feel rushed?  Ask how they feel about the book, not what needs to be fixed.


Any (short or long!) questions?




Steve Forti said...

My chapters tend to be on the shorter side. But I think in terms of: Did they tell the scene I wanted them to? Did they move the story forward how they needed to? And for me, did they end with a hook good enough to make you want to turn the page to need to know what happens next? Hopefully that is all that matters rather than any length quota.

Karen McCoy said...

Great advice, and yes, keeping questions general to beta readers is best--Janet has phrased it perfectly here. I spent years "leading the witness" and not knowing that I was inadvertently allowing my betas to confirm my worries instead of getting the feedback I really needed. Good luck!

Craig F said...

I prefer short paragraphs, but am not freakish about it.

I like to have each paragraph mean something in its own right and sometimes that takes more words.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I love short chapters. But I also think there should be chapters of varied lengths throughout a book. Short, a bit longer, long, super-duper short. Super-duper short can be very powerful.

I can't imagine an agent rejecting a ms for chapter length, as long as the story and the writing work well. Unless every single chapter is short. That might be tedious reading.

Lennon Faris said...

As a reader, the best first chapters for a book I'm not already 100% invested in are under ten pages. Most that go beyond this make me feel antsy. It's like someone talking too long when you first meet them.

The rest of the chapters in the book I don't care as much about.

Luralee said...

I would think extra long chapters are more likely to be problematic than really short ones. I write in scenes, rather than chapters. Some (many) of my scenes are less than a page, some are chapter length. I usually have to string scenes together to make chapters. It feels kind of arbitrary to me a lot of the time. Sometimes I wish could get away without having chapter breaks in my novel.

AJ Blythe said...

I've always thought of scenes as structure (ie writing craft) but chapters as arbitrary (ie don't rely on writing craft).

You can put 1 scene or a couple of scenes in a doesn't affect the story, it affects readability, because a lot of people will read "to the end of the chapter" and you want readers to keep turning the page - but at the end of a chapter that depends how you end the scene. You can have short chapters, but if the scene doesn't end on a hook, it won't matter if your chapter is short or long.

If you write nailbiting scenes, you can make your chapters whatever length you like and people will keep turning the page.

At least, that's my 2c :)

Shah Kou said...

Personally, I'm not pulled into books that have chapters that are all the same length (every chapter comes in at 20 pages, or similar). Seriously, this bores the shit out of me. Regardless of genre, I want to see shorter chapters where the action is ramping up, and longer chapters when we're getting to know characters (are getting inside their heads).
I think that one of the most brilliant things an author can do is mix up the length of chapters depending on what kind emotion they want to evoke in their reader.
Writing well, having engaging characters and having a good plot is something to be admired....but knowing how to break a novel up into pieces that heighten the reader's experience...well, I think that's just damn genius.

Kitty said...

I am re-reading Michael Connelly's Bosch series for the third time. The chapters that seem long are the ones that drag. It takes me an extra day or two to finish the book. The short chapters fly by quickly, and I can't put the book down.

My husband, who has rarely ever read a piece of fiction, just read James Patterson's THE PERFECT ASSASSIN in record time. He could not put the book down, not even to eat dinner. We had spaghetti with sausage that night, and it was a cold, solid mass by the time he got to it.

Kelly said...

I have narcolepsy. Short chapters make me feel more neurologically abled because I can read them without falling asleep.