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Some of my favorite Frank Herbert books go 70 pages between chapters. All the James Patterson books go 2-3 pages between chapters.

I know non=fiction uses chapters to help navigate, which means chapters are dictated by the related content. What are the purposes of having extremely short chapters? Does it actually do anything for the overall reading experience?

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A single very short chapter - like half a page - thrown between normal, long chapters carries immense impact and weight. If you want to give a short event a special frame of importance, give it such minimal chapter. But then, that's not what you're asking here... – SF. Apr 25 '13 at 23:27

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Using lots of very short chapters creates an impression in the reader of very rapid pace and lots of movement. For some genres (such as Patterson's thrillers), this accelerated pace is exactly the effect that you want.

Having long chapters creates the opposite effect: it slows the pace down and gives the author time to expand more fully a given section or theme. This doesn't preclude fast-paced action, but it does allow for more breathing space and a sense of epic scope.

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Short chapters are a gift to readers who may not have the time or stamina to handle 70 pages at a sitting.

For a young reader, reaching goals is important. As their eyelids get heavy and their mind starts to wander into the dreamlands, they struggle to read just a little bit further. If only they can make it to the end of the current chapter, then they will have accomplished something.

By keeping the end of each chapter within reach of even the most tired juvenille reader, an author facilitates little victories in the lives of those same young readers. Those victories, as much as marvelous characters and unexpected plot twists, can fertilize a budding love of reading...

And that love of reading, in time, can lead to increased revenues for the author, when subsequent sequels and new series are released.

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This doubtless applies to young readers just entering the world of novels. I think it might not apply so much to adult readers. If they sit down to read a book, they generally mean to go through it (unless they find the book to be really boring or something). – Tommy Myron May 19 at 5:42
That depends on your definition of an adult reader. Between my writing, my career, my family duties and social life, I am hard pressed to grant myself more than an hour a day for reading. In the 23 hours that divide each of those reading sessions, every manner of challenge and distraction will assault me, distracting me from content and flow of the current chapter. Rather than challenge myself to reconstruct the energy of the previous night's reading, I prefer to end each session at the author's designated pause points... namely, the chapter breaks. – Henry Taylor May 19 at 5:50
That is true. I can't deny that I find short chapters infinitely more convenient to read. – Tommy Myron May 19 at 17:40

I think Patterson is just padding his books, making them thicker, a more respectable size by using short chapters, large type, big margins, etc. The whole point seems to be, not to make great books, just to make lots of them and therefore lots of money.

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Patterson's novels are about 70,000 words, which is a respectable length. – Dale Hartley Emery May 18 at 22:51
This doesn't answer the question. – Neil Fein May 18 at 23:38
I would add that you can't make a lot of money simply by making a lot of books. They have to be good books, otherwise they won't sell. – Tommy Myron May 19 at 1:19

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