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Thursday, March 29, 2012

The long or short of it?

As I edit and rewrite portions of my latest project, The Goose Parade of Old Dickeywood, I made the decision to shorten chapters, some of the longer ones now divided into four or five chapters. Long chapters bug me, and make me tired, both in my own writing and when I'm reading other books. Shorter chapters give me a chance to grab another cup of hot tea, take a walk, and perhaps do a household chore while I mull over what I've just read. I like that.

Instead of having long chapters with endless scenes separated by some sort of spacer, I whacked away at my own pages and made new chapters where it seemed obvious to do so.

I wonder how you feel about it as a reader. As a writer. As an editor. As a publisher. Does it matter?  Please give feedback in the comments section.

13 comments:

Marta Stephens said...

Susan, with the exception of one or two critical chapters, I tend to write short one. And like you, I've done my share of chopping in my writing. Just make sure the chapter ending is logical and gives the reader a stepping stone into the next one. ;) All the best to you in getting this one done!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Susan,

This subject is near and dear to my heart. Over the course of my 16 books I've gone from short short chapters (about 600-1000 words each) to somewhat longer chapters (up to 2500 words) and then back again. Now I feel like anything between 1000 and 2000 words is about right for me. Anything more as a reader is tedious and makes me feel like I'm not making progress. I love that feeling of making it from one chap to the next and it feels good as a reader to know, "only one more chap before I go to sleep." Of course when it's a great book, those chapters fly by, and I often stay up too late reading!

By the way, I love the title of your WIP! Wonderful!

Anonymous said...

Personally, I dislike short chapters. It chops up the story too much, and it annoys me. From a typesetting point of view, it makes a print book longer and more expensive than it has to be. From an acquisitions POV, if I'm trying to decide between two otherwise equal books, and one has micro-chapters, it will be the one rejected.

Lisa Smith
Publisher
www.lldreamspell.com

Susan Whitfield said...

An interesting array of comments so far. Thanks for the feedback, folks. Marta, I do try to end each chapter,regardless of its length, with a logical step to the next. I hope all writers do that. I'd love to hear from some readers.

Joe Prentis said...

The trend is definitely toward shorter chapters, although I don’t always think it helps the flow of the story. I have read several books where chapter breaks appear at regular intervals, even if it is in the middle of a conversation or at some other critical point. Young writers seem to prefer frequent chapter breaks. I now use the * * * * thingies to separate the story into scenes and make chapter breaks at longer intervals. Short chapters can add a considerable page count to a novel, which is never good, but who knows what I will do tomorrow.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Susan,

This is an important topic for novel writers. I used to write long chapters. I am now moving into short chapters because it seems to be preferred by the current writing establishment. Probably this is best for mystery fiction and thrillers but not for romances.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I used to write longer ones, but they were never really long. Now that's I'm working on a non-fiction book, I'm keeping the chapters really short.

Betty Gordon said...

Susan, I like a balance between short and long chapters. As a writer, if I'm trying to deliver a 'punch' to the storyline -- I go with a shorter chapter. I think too many short chapters begins to be choppy to the reader and too many long chapters mean 'ho-hum.' SO, BALANCE is the key.

Carolyn J. Rose said...

I don't give length much thought although, but I do concentrate on how a chapter will end. Does it catch the characters at turning points, raise questions, set character up to move toward their next goals, answer some of the questions raised at the start of the chapter, and hook readers and propel them into the next chapter

Susan Whitfield said...

Wow! Great responses. Thanks, all. Right now I'm doing what Carolyn does and also balancing lengths like Betty. I agree that they can't all be short, and Joe, I can't imagine stopping in the middle of a conversation. I do want to have a reason for ending chapters where I end them. I wouldn't be so mule-with-blinders to have all 7-page chapters regardless of the plot. This has turned into a nice conversation. Thanks to all of you who reponded here or by email.

Patricia Gligor said...

Susan,
I agree 100%! I prefer short chapters when I read and I use short chapters when I write.
I like to read at night before I go to sleep and there's something unsettling about having to put my book marker on a page in the middle of a chapter when I can't stay awake another second.

Susan Whitfield said...

At the moment I have both long and short chapters that end at a reasonable location. I suppose I'm content with that although I have at least one more FULL revision to do on the book.

Joe Prentis said...

Susan,

I read this last year, but it is just as good the second time around. Thanks for calling our attention to it again.