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Chapter Accordian

Posted: September 22nd, 2011, 10:53 am
by Hillsy
I was poking around with the word count for a completed MS that I'm revising, and discovered that I have a rough average wordcount per chapter and most of my chapters are close to that figure. However, at the start of the novel the chapters are slightly shorter than average and, toward the end, slightly longer.

Either from experience, or opinion, is this a good or a bad thing for an epic fantasy novel? Are longer chapters toward the end expected as, in epic fantasy, you get the big set pieces to work through that you might not get in, say, a thriller or a mystery? Should there be shorter chapters so all the various cast can have their time on stage in the climax? I wonder if anyones come across any advice on this?

(I mapped out "The Eye of the World" by page count and chapter lengths get slightly longer on average for about 4/5ths of the book, then the last 5th are a flurry of short chapters.)

Re: Chapter Accordian

Posted: September 22nd, 2011, 2:40 pm
by Philabuster
It's my opinion that it doesn't matter what genre it is, chapters should be as long or as short as you see fit. With that being said I tend to notice shorter chapters in the beginning and longer chapters towards the end in most of the books I read. I attribute this to how the beginning of the book is primarily introductions. We're learning about the characters, setting, and conflict roughly at the same time. Where this is a lot of information, it's still basic information and tends to be condensed into a shorter chapter so the reader has a chance to see the "big picture" so to speak. Chapters at the end involved settling the conflict and tying together all the loose ends. They tend to be more complex than the beginning chapters and therefore longer. Again these are not written in stone facts, just more personal opinions.

Truthfully I wouldn't worry about chapter length. There is no limit to how long or short a chapter should be. In the book Mr. Peanut for example some of the chapters are less than twenty pages while another chapter takes up half the book. I would suggest keeping the chapters at a length that keeps your story flowing well and keeps the reader interested.

Re: Chapter Accordian

Posted: September 30th, 2011, 3:43 pm
by sierramcconnell
My mom has read books where the chapters are one page before. And these are people that have written over fifty books. I mean...really now.

I tend to like to read shorter chapters, because I like to be able to bookmark a lot. But I write longer chapters because they're like little stories within the story. It depends on what point you're trying to get across inside that chapter.

Re: Chapter Accordian

Posted: October 1st, 2011, 9:07 pm
by Fenris
I have to agree with Sierra and Phil: it really comes down to what works and what doesn't. Battle scenes shouldn't be split up by chapters, so if you have a long or climactic battle, it'll probably end up being a long chapter. Likewise, peaceful scenes that provide the characters some respite might gain their own chapters because they're set apart from the rest of the action, even if the scene is relatively short.

My advice? Be flexible--do what the subject demands, rather than going by standard page count. While having a new chapter every fifteen pages is nice and allows more opportunities for people to put the book down, it also stands a good chance of interrupting action that shouldn't be interrupted and--oh yeah--it allows more opportunities for people to put the book down.

One thing I would caution, though, should seem like a given: mark the chapters as you go rather than writing as one long document. I did the latter, and you'd be amazed at how hard it was to divide it all up by chapters (and how wonky the chapters were afterward).

Re: Chapter Accordian

Posted: October 3rd, 2011, 6:17 pm
by Hillsy
Cheers guys,

It was more a retrospective thing - I've not tailored chapters by word sount and I was very surprised to find out how many fell within 500 words of about the same length. It was more whether if anyone knew if convention was to carve up larger chapters to increase pace towards the end and I was wondering if I could make some simple trims (I've two main plots around that period I could juggle to jump back and forth a bit quicker) to improve it. All my chapters are very self contained (I think I've only got 4 places between 32 chapter transtitions that run straight on from the previous one) and I know Brandon Sanderson says this is fine in the main - just didn't know if that applied to the ending as well

Thanks again

Re: Chapter Accordian

Posted: October 4th, 2011, 10:41 am
by Fenris
Oh. Sorry for misunderstanding. Hmm...

Actually, I still think the "whatever works, works" mantra still applies here, and I don't think you should rely on chapter boundaries to control pacing. Think about it this way: if each chapter is a box, and each box has something inside it, are you going to get more excited about the size of the box or the stuff inside it? Or maybe look at it in the reverse. If you're trying to pack, you want a box that's just the right size for what you're trying to pack into it. It won't work if it's too large or too small, so in that way what's going in dictates what size box you're going to need.

So I guess I'm saying chapters should be flexible. If your way of increasing pacing is to make the chapters shorter, go ahead, but ensure that it's the writing that has the most effect on the pacing. Even if the chapters are only a page long, if what's going on within them is slow, everything's going to feel disjointed. Fit the chapters to the writing, not the other way around.

Now, to address your situation specifically, I'd say jumping back and forth between two plots is a marvelous way to give the script an urgent feel. I know I do it, and I'd be willing to bet it works for others as well. That alone could fix any pacing issues, rather than resorting to carving up chapters (though if you're devoting one chapter to each time you switch between them, it seems the chapters would grow shorter on their own as a side effect). If the chapters grow shorter on their own, in relation to their contents, that's good. If you're carving them up just to carve them up, I'd question the wisdom of that move. A story's flow is more important than how many convenient bookmarking places it contains.