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When I'm working on a novel, I have a tendency to write short chapters (1k-3k words). This is not a problem, per se, but I sometimes feel the need to have one or two longer chapters to slow down the pacing. I have a hard time doing this in a satisfying way.

In most cases, my novels follow two or three characters or groups of characters. Each chapter focuses on a single character or group, and the chapters are ordered so they rotate between all the groups (so there are rarely two chapters in a row that follow the same group).

I've tried merging chapters by simply concatenating two chapters that follow the same group, replacing the chapter break with a scene break. This tends to feel like two chapters forced uncomfortably together, for obvious reasons. It also usually requires a fair bit of rearranging adjacent chapters to keep a somewhat even rotation between character groups. Combining chapters that follow different groups feels even worse. It stands out as odd when the other chapters follow only one group.

The only other option I see is making chapters longer. I'm hesitant to go down that road. It's not worth adding boring filler to try and get the pacing right, and dropping in five or ten pages of new, compelling material can be extremely difficult, and tends to require adjustments in the surrounding chapters as well.

So, what technique would you recommend for adjusting chapter length?

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Related - an excellent description of how chapter length affects pacing. –  sjohnston Dec 15 '10 at 20:20
    
@sjohnson - is your problem that the story requires a pacing break at some point? If you are finding yourself forcing the story, it seems to indicate that the story itself is paced at the tempo that you are writing it. –  justkt Dec 15 '10 at 20:31
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@justkt - In some cases, I'm trying to give the reader a break after a series of intense, fast-paced scenes. In other cases, there is a chunk of time passing in the story, and I want to help the reader "feel" that passage of time through slower pacing (rather than an abrupt "One week later..." sort of jump). –  sjohnston Dec 15 '10 at 20:47
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Just as a point of (potential) interest: Terry Pratchett almost never uses chapters. Of his Discworld novels, only 6 (to date) use chapters, and 4 of them are the Tiffany Aching YA books. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Dec 16 '10 at 22:50
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2 Answers 2

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Go through it and work with description. Find places where your description of things (the settings, a character's look, how someone is feeling, etc.) are weak and strengthen them.

Action descriptions: "She ran down the street to get away from him." could be replaced with "Her breath was labored as she sprint down Main Street. Every couple steps she glanced over her should, checking to see if he was following. By the time she was satisfied that he wasn't following her, she was out of breath and ducked into the nearest store for cover."

Setting descriptions: "The building was tall and formidable." could be "The office building that housed all of Dream Computing jetted up into the sky. In the afternoon sun, the shadow it cast was enough to blanket half of the town in its shadow. Jamie was glad she wasn't the one who had to hang hundreds of feet in the air to clean the massive windows looking out over the town."

Feeling descriptions: "Jamie's fear of heights kicked in when she got close to the window." "Jamie's heart thudded in her chest as she approached the window. When she was only a few feet from the large sheet of Plexiglas, her palms were soaked with her own sweat and the hairs on the back of her neck stood up. Gazing down at the little dots milling around on the ground, she became light headed and quickly backed away. She prayed the one day she might over come her fear of heights."

This is going to be your best bet for lengthening chapters without adding new scenes or useless information. Make your reader feel like they're in the story. If the character is scared or nervous or excited, the reader should be able to feel it.

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This advice is excellent. –  justkt Dec 15 '10 at 20:54
    
one thing you shouldn't do is add random description to an intense scene. i was reading a Tom Clancy novel where the protagonist was just escaping the enemy compound. Running, he jumped into a boat... and before speeding away, spent two or three paragraphs describing just the model and make of the boat and its texture, etc. totally killed the pacing. –  Claudiu Dec 17 '10 at 21:39
    
I'd also avoid constantly describing things with that level of detail as that can be too burdensome. I think one of H.P.Lovecraft's novels was about a dream world, and each page was just tons and tons of fantastical (and good on their own) ideas and descriptions, but I think he himself admitted it was a bit too much to put together in one place –  Claudiu Dec 17 '10 at 21:40
    
@Claudiu - I don't think I've ever seen a page of H. P. Lovecraft that wasn't packed with fantastical description. –  sjohnston Dec 17 '10 at 23:01
    
@Claudiu Yeah, I don't recommend going overboard with description on fast paced scenes. But on scenes you want to slow down, being more descriptive can help set the pace. –  Ralph Gallagher Dec 17 '10 at 23:39
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I have a tendency to write short chapters (1k-3k words)

Then there's your answer. Most writers would love to have a naturally-occurring tendency of any kind other than sucking.

You describe a process of struggle and literary engineering in which you attempt to subvert your own natural way of writing. Just reading the question is almost painful. Why are you torturing yourself like that? Where did you get the idea that your chapters should be longer?

Did someone in a writing group tell you that?

Is it because other writers' chapters are longer?

Do either of those sound like a good reason for doing anything?

It sounds to me as though your chapters are exactly the proper length. Just keep at it and perhaps someday people will be reading your stuff and then asking how they can break up their long, cumbersome chapters into shorter ones.

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