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Is it acceptable to pace my chapters in terms of an event? Can I get away with a 4 page chapter here, and a 30 page chapter there?

Are there any reason why I should or should not be sticking to a specific page range for my chapters?

I basically just don't know what I should be doing with my chapters, and even if something I do is "acceptable", I don't want to piss off any readers.

I've seen the posts here and here and here, but I could not find the answers I am looking for.

The posts linked above highlight a typical word count for a chapter and mention that chapters should end when a scene is over, but for clarity, I want to know if it's all right that a chapter ends if a scene is super quick, rather than doing the technique of "line break, line break, asterisks, line break, line break" etc. kind of thing to break up events.

I don't want to fluff up my chapters because I feel like that's really frustrating and unnecessary. Sometimes, a scene is only 8 pages.

Is that okay? Why or why not?

Thanks guys.

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8 Answers 8

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Chapter length is often about pace. This can apply to a single chapter (i.e. ending on with a cliffhanger), but it can also apply to your novel as a whole. If each chapter is a radically different size than the last, it may be jarring for the reader. You may want that though. If you have three medium-length chapters followed by a very short one, it is going to cause a sense of urgency and surprise. As long as that is what you are going for, it can be very effective.

Chapter length, like everything in your piece, is just another tool to influence the readers experience.

P.S. Never "fluff" your writing. No good will come from it. Your reader will be able to tell.

Update: One more point: The structure of your novel is not going be the same in your first draft as when you finally submit it to an agent/publisher. In the meantime, you will have realized some things worked, some didn't, and some things needed to be moved for clarity or suspense or pace or whatever.

Don't worry too much about chapter length in your first draft. It's by your final draft where you need to perfect it.

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Yeah, I don't want to fluff my writing--I was hoping that wasn't "the way" to do things. Thanks for the response, Joel! You make a good point. –  bdrelling Jun 29 '11 at 15:19

I have no problem with that. As a child I would sometimes count the number of pages in the next chapter just to see whether it was really time for lights out (the fact it was after midnight didn't make a big impact on my decision). The reason for regular length chapters is more to do with serials being turned into novels than any stylistic necessity. Many great authors have never stood on ceremony about such things.

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Haha, I did the same thing as a kid, and I do the same thing now! –  bdrelling Jun 29 '11 at 15:21

Do not add unnecessary details just to fill up your page count of a chapter. The trick in fiction writing is getting rid of the unnecessary stuff, not adding it.

Many readers do not want to stop mid-chapter while reading. So you can think about dividing a 30 pages chapter into two chapter, but only if it makes sense to the story. Do not split mid-scene.

If all you have to tell in one chapter fits on four, three, two, or one page(s), write it down and go to the next chapter.

Chapters define the structure of your story. (Some authors don't use chapters, so it is not a must-have). This structure should follow the logic of the plot, not arbitrary page counts. If you are unsure, if a chapter has enough pages, it could be (but need not), that this chapter has other problems. Maybe it should be later or sooner in the book, or need to be re-written, or something else. If you can't figure out yet, just go on with the next chapter. After finishing the first draft, many things are clearer.

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I didn't consider waiting until I'm finished the first draft to better plan my chapters... that's a good point. I suppose I'll take the common advice of 'write without editing' until I'm done. Thanks, John. –  bdrelling Jun 29 '11 at 15:21
    
Well said! No one wants to waste time with things that don't matter. –  RolandiXor Jun 29 '11 at 21:50

It also depends partially on the expectations of your genre too. Ex: fantasy/historical fiction generally tend to have long chapters, with many scenes.

Often times very short chapters make for better "page turners." As the reader has more opportunities to put the book down, they often give into the temptation to read "just one more chapter."

At its core, something has to change by the end of every chapter. The ante is upped, the character realizes something, friends are made, allies betray, the plot takes on a different turn. It doesn't necessarily matter whether this is a really minor change or a tremendous change, nor if it is after five words ("My mother is a fish.") or fifty pages. As long as there was a clear reason for the chapter's length and its general existence, the reader will be satisfied.

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Let your story decide for you. Each chapter is usually a different scene or takes place at a different time or in a different location. What happens in each scene will dictate how much time you spend there, both from the character's perspective and the reader's.

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Steven Drennon, i loved your answer most of all. –  user5124 May 4 '13 at 15:35

I am often the same way with my chapters and scenes. I really think the varying lengths of your chapters depends on what you as an author are comfortable with. If you feel like it is how it should be divided, then by all means do it that way! Hope this helps.

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In answer to the question I've always struggled with the concept of chapters. They are an artificial contrivance; often an artifact of the author's writing process designed to help him or her, not the reader. So the other option is to consider not having them at all. Here is my reasoning...

Chapters give the reader and excuse to stop reading, as a writer I don't want to give my readers any excuse to stop.

Modern fiction is based on a sequence of immediate scenes. It is more visual than in the past, because readers are used to watching movies. Do movies delineate their progress with chapters? No, a movie is designed to be an immersive experience. I want my fiction to be more immersive and so I avoid chopping it up into arbitrary slices that the reader can see.

Beware of course that this flies in the face of tradition. But that doesn't mean it is wrong. People noticed when intermissions were removed from movies, but now they would be shocked if an intermission broke them out of their induced dream state.

My first novel was a sequence of scenes with no chapters; my editor didn't say anything and I've had only a couple of complaints from readers who said they wanted a place to stop (I don't want you to stop!).

I predict that fiction without chapters will become more of the norm in the future, especially with genres such as thrillers where pacing is vital.

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I plan my chapters out, very vaguely, before starting to write so that I have some level of understanding of the structure. However, whilst writing, the story takes on a life of its own and, usually, more chapters are added, broken down, etc. If you read The Dark Tower series by Stephen King, there are several instances where a very long chapter is followed by a chapter that is just one sentence, this is usually due to a brief change in perspective. If someone with Stephen King's success in the written field, if you like him or not, does varying chapter lengths to that degree then I think its all a-ok!

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