Pros and cons of short or long chapters
I started writing again recently, and I barreled through about twenty thousand words in the first five days of my week. For me, that turned out to be three or four chapters. I think.
The last chapter in Catcher in the Rye isn’t even a full page. Some chapters in other books can be twenty or thirty pages.
A question that will come to mind while you’re either writing or revising is when you should insert a chapter break, or even how long your chapters should be.
Well, I’ll tell you first that there isn’t a definite rule for it, and you can do whatever you want. But, we’ll go through pros and cons anyway so you can decide for yourself.
My first example of a short chapter was a one-pager. Don’t think this gives you license to make every chapter one page. I’ll go to the extreme here and say one-page chapters are what we like to call pages. And they’re not chapters. If you need a one-page chapter, fine, but don’t make it a prominent thing. Readers feel like they break when they reach the end of the chapter. Try stopping once you start running. Do it again. Do it again. It’ll get frustrating.
- Readers get a sense of completion/accomplishment sooner.
- It makes the reader feel like they’re reading the book faster, so they’re usually more willing to put more time into reading.
- You don’t have to feel like you need to drag your scenes out so much. This is especially good for fantasy/crime/other action-filled genres.
- If you have more than one perspective, you can switch more often. Don’t abuse this. Give your characters time to develop.
- The story moves faster psychologically. This can be a con if you want a slower story.
- You have more organization abilities; you can use your chapters to organize by time period, character perspective, day, etc.
- You have more time within a section to expand a particular element: theme, storyline, back story, subplot, etc.
- If the reader is engaged, they’ll have more of the story to read before they reach a “stopping point.”
- Fewer chapters in a book.
- Readers can plan to set aside more time to enjoy your book.
- Longer scenes can fit in a chapter.
- Financially, that’s less blank space to pay for, which means a lower page count.
I won’t label the cons of each because you can simply go to the other group and put “not” somewhere in the sentence. Realistically, readers like shorter chapters (most of them) now because we’re in a fast-paced, get it now world. This isn’t true for every reader, though, and your book might benefit from longer chapters.
This is something you’ll have to decide for yourself because you know the pace your book follows, and you know what tone you want you book to have. Consider these options, and feel free to add your own. I’ll add them in if you type them in the comments.
Where to end your chapter
I will add a couple tips on where you can end your chapters, too. Once you figure out where you want to end a chapter, end it! Don’t linger. Here are a few things you might come across that will act as good breaking points for your chapter.
Keep your reader reading
- sudden realization
- tense romantic moment
- plot twist
- character asks/is asked a huge question, and the person who needs to answer hesitates
Good segue into another chapter/scene
- Your character’s scene is done (next character in next chapter)
- Your character goes to sleep (Don’t overuse this. This is when readers put the book down.)
- moment of peace/happiness/sorrow
- after a monologue
- after big scene so you can skip the boring rest of the day/week/month/year
- before a big scene
These are a few examples of where a chapter can end. The latter list isn’t action packed, and it doesn’t always make the reader want to turn a page. Sometimes, you don’t have that big moment. When that happens, don’t worry. You don’t have to end every chapter by making your reader gasp or swallow their spit down the wrong tube. There are segues and there are breaks. Figure out what works for you, and if anything, trust your gut. I promise you’re making it harder than it needs to be.
Write for yourself, but edit for your reader.
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