Thursday, April 25, 2013

Writing 101: Chapter Length

How long should chapters be? It's a question that indie authors ask over and over, and one I've asked myself many times. So what's the answer?

Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand Six Hundred Letters

It would be nice if there were certain rules about chapters. For YA, write chapters that are 2,000 words long. Adult romance? Try 5,000. Historical epic? You're going to be skirting 10,000.

I'm just making those numbers up out of thin air, of course. There is no standard when it comes to chapter length...maybe that's why authors are asking about it all the time. Every writer does it differently, and maybe that's another reason it's so confusing. But when it comes to chapters, there's really just one answer: there are no rules.

I mean it -- none. Lewis Carroll wrote chapters that were one word in length, or a handful of words. He ended chapters in the middle of sentences, nevermind in the middle of scenes. If he can get away with that, you can get away with anything you want, too. 

So, forget about length. Next? Uniformity. Some authors like to have fairly precise chapters. I used to read an author who wrote chapters that were so perfectly organized, I could finish each one in exactly 30 minutes. Seriously, I could practically time a watch by it. Weird stuff. But this is just a matter of personal preferences (or maybe with some authors, a weird compulsion). If you want uniform chapters, write them. If you want to be as unbalanced and random as Lewis Carroll, do it. You're writing your book, so go crazy if you like.

What I'm saying is this: disregard chapter length. If you're writing in an organized fashion, you've got an outline to follow so you have a rough idea of what should happen in each chapter. Write out your scenes until the chapter feels complete and all important plot points are covered. When it's done, you'll know. Forget about how long it is, and write the next chapter. 

Instead of worrying about how many words or pages your chapters are, worry about how long it takes you to write them.That's something worth thinking about.

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