How long is a chapter? help requested please


This week has been a good week on the whole if we discount the weather plummeting to zero again just as my daffodils decided to was safe enough to bud:(  Also had to have some blood tests to see if we can discover just why I am not picking up as quickly as I should now that heart has been stabilized.  Results next week so fingers crossed it’s just a matter of adjusting drug does.  My visit to check rat poison levels was good I have reached the desired level.

 I have a great time editing The Ancestors Tale – this has been in creation for over a year now – some parts written, some dictated – there is a difference – when I dictate I am using more varied and complex vocabulary! Who would have thought? Some written/dictated when I was well and some when ill – again a big difference – I can see this editing is going to be a complicated challenge but you know what – it’s a challenge that I am enjoying:)

 My Scrivener workshop has highlighted a few things to be looked at in the Ancestors.  One of which I am seeking advice.  More of that later.

 I am this year showcasing the previous three in the Sefuty Chronicle series before Ancestors appears at the end of the year.  AS I missed last year’s deadline for it – this showcasing is as a reminder and hopefully to garner some new readers and hopefully some up to date reviews.  Ellen’s Tale is on her way as a must read and the other two will finish in the next months. Then later in the year I will be organizing some tours – I need to get some reviewers first.

While Ellen is being showcased I have signed her up on Morgan Bailey’s novel nights in – 10 weeks worth of instalments.  Morgan offers this blog for books of no greater length than 100,000 words – Ellen is the only one of the three short enough –so I need to chop her up into ten 10,000 word sections.

 Now my –‘help wanted please’ – bit:

 All the Sefuty Chronicles are made up of archival material i.e. recordings- transcripts of recordings, letters and journal entries. Sections (chapters) are of varying length and Ellen’s Tale having no chapters at all – it is written in sections – Ellen Welfitt or Bix Sefune for instance – the whole interview in one section (chapter) so some are very long say 12,000 words some very short for instance 1500 words depending on who is being interviewed – also the transcripts are interspersed with letters – fairly short but collected together so there may be any from 1 to 5 letters in a section. I will need to put chapters in I think for this 10 week project.

 I have read that chapters of 2,000 words are easy to read – this seems very short to me (well it would wouldn’t it:)  What are people’s thoughts on the length of chapters?  Bearing in mind the structure of these books.  The overview of Ancestors is beginning to throw up a similar question how long should a section be?  Ancestors is slightly different in that there are 4 sections of archival material, but for the first time there is a main narrative running through it – the man reading the ancestors accounts of 100 years previous also remembers the past 40 years of his life. Would I need to have a different chapter structure for the memories?

 Does any of this make any sense? Have any of you read Ellen’s Tale – I think the formula works in any case people do come back for more so it can’t be so unreadable – but it does need some flexibility of mind to read.

 How long is a chapter?

ROW80. This week:

 Words: I have been editing like crazy.  It is NaNoEdMo – 50 hours of editing min in a month – concentrates the mind. All of The Ancestors Tale has now gone through autocrit and basic mistakes have been highlighted.  In the process I have re-arranged the order of events a little to make I hope a more pleasing effect.  Going through autocrat work in the removing of repeated words and phrases I am re-thinking sentence construction and so the story tightens and improves – a small miracle!

 Memoir is also going well the 2 workshops have helped a great deal here and I have sound framework and have begun to fill in the gaps exposed.

 Blogs: Only one this week for Insecure Writers, ‘Wonderful dysfuctional human beings’

 Workshops:    2 x memoir – great  –   1 x Scrivener – I have fallen deeply in awe of scrivener – I am so pleased I joined this workshop – I hadn’t realised just how amazing it was.

 Networking:   Bit of a struggle this week – but have done some every day.

 Next Week:  More of the same – mainly editing but hope to start actually writing some A-Z blogs for April – have some drafted and have decided on what to include under every letter except 2!

 I hope everyone has had a reasonable week and wish you all a good coming week.

22 thoughts on “How long is a chapter? help requested please

  1. I’ve been asking myself while writing my current project; the shortest chapter I have so far is 700 words and the longest is over 2000 words. I would have to agree with everyone else that a chapter is as long or as short as you want it. I feel that if the scene has finished with a good conclusion yet there is still a pull for the reader then that is a good place to stop.

  2. shanjeniah says:

    Instincts, I say. I think you are very in touch with your stories. Trust yourself, and your characters.

    May you be well! =)

    • alberta says:

      thank you – I have been coming to the conclusion over the months that there are formula books and then the opposite – the rules seem to work for the former but not so well for other – I shall continue my way:)

  3. Julie Glover says:

    Good job this week, Alberta! I love Scrivener too. It’s made my novels so much easier to organize and sift through.

    As to length of chapters, I think it depends. For a suspense or thriller novel, I would expect shorter chapters. For literary fiction, I expect longer. Personally, I’m okay with any length of chapters, as long as there are natural breaks somewhere (sometimes indicated by a break in lines or a graphic). I don’t always have time to read 20 pages at once, so it’s good to have a natural stopping point. For me, it makes sense for those to occur when setting changes, when characters come in/out of a scene, when time changes, etc. Good luck with that!

    • alberta says:

      Ah scrivener:) I am deeply in awe of it – why did I never take this class a year ago – for such a disorganised writer as myself it is a boon – and so colourful – I do like colours:) – My long sections do have breaks *** but I guess the way I write isn’t really conducive to short chapters – there is action of course but they are much more in the mind then in the place – thanks for words:)

  4. Andrea Gilbey says:

    I’m not a writer, but as a reader, if a story is well told I never notice chapter endings other than as a natural place to take a break (if forced to!). If those breaks are there naturally and comfortably, then don’t worry about the spacing between them and neither will your reader.

    • alberta says:

      Thanks Andrea – it’s good to here from a non writing reader – it is the reader we wish to communicate with the trouble with being a writer we read differently always one part thinking of structure /form etc – try not too but it is difficulat not too – so your imput very welcome thank you very much:)

  5. morgenbailey says:

    Thank you for the mention, Alberta.

    Morgen (with an e)

  6. marianallen says:

    Here I am, being Little Miss Echo, but I agree with Beth and S. J. A chapter is as long as it needs to be for coherence.

    As for the Ancestors book: If the man’s memories are extended enough to constitute a narrative, I think I would give them their own chapters, possibly even with a different font from the archival material. Maybe one Courier or Arial and one Times New Roman?

    Best of luck with your health and your on-fire writing!

    • alberta says:

      thanks for advice and good luck wishes – not sure what I want the results to show really – everything coming normal is good news or is it not if they are normal there still a question of why and if something is wrong not really good – anyway – that is our wonderful life eh:) on fire writing makes me smile and I like smiling – thanks the memories are certainly enough to warrent their own chapters – funny things books he wasnt even there when SAncestors was first planned and then he strolled up one day looking for a bit part and now its his story and the ancestors exsist to serve him:) control who ever said we were in control:)

  7. cpbialois says:

    This is going to sound monotonous, but I agree with S.J. and Beth. Do what feels right to you, everyone has a different system or style they use. I’ve read book where they’ve ranged from 2000+ to as little as ten words, or a single dialogue. I generally try to keep mine between five to twelve pages and pretty much uniform, but I also have each chapter set up as a large scene with smaller scenes in them from time to time.

    • alberta says:

      well my breaks would probably be your smaller scenes – theres only a couple as long as Ellen’s and some are very much smaller – I think the instalments will work and for the moment at least I will continue with Ancestors as it is – will be able to tell better when the editing is finaly finished – thanks

  8. katecopeseeley says:

    There is no write or wrong word count, if you go by what other authors are doing. I have read really long chapters (probably 10,000 words or so) and really short chapters (literally one paragraph!).

    For my fantasy series, I keep it to about 1000-1500 words per character section. I do three sections per chapter, which adds up to about 3000-4800 words per chapter.

    For my contemporary romances, it’s about 900-1300 words per chapter, but they’re novella length works(30-50000 words), so I think shorter chapters are appropriate.

    Go with your gut. What is your book TELLING you to do? That is what you should do, not what anyone else tells you. If it makes sense for the story, then it will only strengthen the work. And your readers will respond.

    • alberta says:

      I think the general opinion seems to be to stick to where I think it should seperate – I will check with Morgen Bailey to be sure it will be alright for what she is doing – it will mean a bit of jiggering aroud I think but het life is for jiggering around isn’t it:) thanks

  9. Chapters are, under most circumstances, simply arbitrary separations. If a chapter is too long, no matter how good your writing, your reader will get antsy, agitated, eventually bored and put the book down. This is a fact. There are reasons why people have trouble putting books by such authors as James Patterson down. He writes short chapters. If you want each of these sections to be separated into separate parts, that’s fine. But you should have individual chapters underneath it if that section is 12k words. Your readers will put your book down.

    As for the structure of your novel. I would cut it into parts based upon the archival material in question, regardless of size. Chapters divided roughly by size so that no chapter is longer than 3k words. I wouldn’t make separate chapters for the memories but possibly use italics to distinguish the two, like I see commonly with dream sequences, or simply create a new scene, which is commonly used for changes in POV.

    • alberta says:

      I have so far put the narration into seperate chapters marking the change by indicating person and date and age – as its not finished yet not sure how it will look but will take on board the different fonts and/italics but I think the sections maybe too long for italics – why oh why didn’t I write a straight foward novella:)

  10. S. J. Maylee says:

    I agree with Beth. Trust your gut. Only you can know. Treat it like any other comment you’ve gotten. Take it in, let it settle, and then make a final decision.
    I should have taken the Scrivener workshop with you. You’ll be in my t&ps this week, Alberta, for helpful test results. Hope you have a good one.

    • alberta says:

      They have another scrivner workshop later in the year – tis sooo good with daily lessons – good group participation and live workshops once a week that even I in UK have managed to get too – usually US workshops are live when I’m curled up in bed:( Thanks for advice and good wishes:)

  11. Beth Camp says:

    Dear Alberta. Please let the story dictate the length of your chapters! I still remember reading Brautigan and being shocked at chapters of only one page, but those short, very short chapters added dramatic punch. Your story structure (and whose point of view) will help you decide the pacing of the chapters. Trust your writer’s intuition! Those workshops sound like they’re feeding your creativity just fine. May you have more good news about your health! Best, Beth

    • alberta says:

      I have to admit when I was writing it seemed the right place to stop and start – everyone seems to be saying the same – I don’t feel so hesitant now – thanks

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