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Chapter Lengths

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acorpsmith

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I came here with a chapter question and found the chapter plotting thread started on the tenth. Now I am thinking of my question as sort of a follow-up on that thread.

I have a very rough draft of a novel I am considering middle grade. As I massage this draft, there are a few chapter breaks I am unsure of. I very much like the "thinking of a chapter like a mini story" approach, in which there is some event that furthers the plot with an obvious beginning, middle, and end in each chapter. However, if I break the book up solely in that way (which is my inclination) I end up with huge differences in chapter lengths. Like 3000 words vs 500 words.

I'm planning to self publish, so I'm not concerned about what publishers like and don't like, but I am concerned about how this discrepancy might be felt by readers. Will it disrupt the flow of the story? Will most people even notice?

Do you guys consider chapter length when writing, or just let chapter word counts fall where they may?

Thanks! 
#1 - March 22, 2014, 10:55 AM

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I usually value the shape of the chapter and the note it ends on more than its length. I know this question has come up before, and basically the answer is yes, chapters can be different lengths, as long as they are pulling their weight in the story and as long as something happens in them.
#2 - March 22, 2014, 12:44 PM

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I think, as writers, it's hard to get out of the "every chapter must be _____ pages" mindset, especially if you're used to submitting a certain number of pages to a critique group every round.


I agree with olmue, though. The shape of the chapter (well-phrased, btw) is more important than the length.
#3 - March 22, 2014, 01:56 PM

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Well said by olmue.


A bit of variance won't be noticed. Extremes will, so do consider what impact they have on pacing. They will tend to speed it up, for example -- all those page turns. If that suits where you're at in the story, it's probably fine.


Too, though, my personal rule of thumb is to be careful about allowing chapters for MG to go over 10 double-spaced, 12-point-TNR pages. Short chapters pull a reader through the book, IMO. Long ones tempt them to put the bookmark in before starting another.
#4 - March 22, 2014, 02:18 PM
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I usually actually do 1,000 word chapters. Roughly about the length of your typical long flash fiction. One of the reasons I choose this (I may find there are better methods) is because it's short, but it's long enough where you felt like you read something.

Now granted, personally I often shuffled with length for a long time as well, I made the mistake once of writing a 5,000 word chapter. I hope that helps somewhat.
#5 - March 22, 2014, 05:41 PM
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I think it really depends on your story. Like others have stated I don't think there's a set word count of page limit for chapters. I think the best advice is join the scene as late as possible and get out as soon as possible. End at a point that will make the reader want to read more. This may not necessarily be at the end of the scene, it may in fact be at the high point. Just before we discover some big piece of information. I don't think the occasional long chapter is a big deal in middle grade if you are keeping the interest of the reader. That said long chapters might be a turn off to some readers. But you have to decide who you think might enjoy this book and work from there.
#6 - March 24, 2014, 06:25 AM

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As said many times above, it totally depends on the story.

Maniac Magee has a few half page chapters. They work for that book. Other books might need the chapters to have a more consistent feel.

I write the entire story first and then look for places to add chapter breaks after the second or third draft. I start by looking for themes among groups of scenes. When the next one is thematically different or I've skipped a large time period, I know I need a chapter break.
#7 - March 24, 2014, 08:43 AM
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Yes, it really does depend on the story. Shorter chapters will quicken the pace of the book but that's not always best for every book. In my book I wanted it to be faster paced so I made them between 2-3k each.
#8 - March 24, 2014, 09:36 AM
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I always write my first draft the way it flows in my mind.
Later when i dont need the stuff i cut off.
Then comes the word count where i slash off everything that i dont need and if it something i dont want to cut but have to then i keep it for later chapters.
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#9 - March 25, 2014, 02:04 AM

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