Thursday, June 18, 2015

X is for Xtremely Too Long

Debra takes a look at chapter length.

I started reading a new series this past weekend, and I am having the hardest time getting through the first book. It's about a topic I like: vampires. It's set in the city of Chicago, so there are some familiar setting references. There's a bit of romance in it. The guys are sexy and appealing. It even has touches of humor and a little action thrown in. What's not to like?

For the longest time I couldn't put my finger on why it was taking me so long to read it. I read a new Clive Cussler over the weekend which was 452 pages long, and I was done in a day. The vampire book is only 342 pages, so over a hundred pages shorter, and it's dragging on and taking me forever to finish.

Now granted, they are different types of is action-adventure while the other is fantasy, but both are genres I usually enjoy. So why was it that I couldn't put one down and I'm having a hard time picking the other up?

And then it hit me: the chapters in the Cussler book are quick, short, and often jump from one character's POV to another. This is a great page-turning technique, as a reader is always wondering what's happening with that character we left a few chapters ago. So we read on to find out what happens next.

The chapters in the vampire book are long, drawn out, and often encompass many different scenes and circumstances and are all written in first person from the heroine's POV.

Ah, this seems to be my issue. The story seems to be dragging because the chapters seem to never come to an end. One was 33 pages long. Another 37. For me, this is just too long.

A chapter can definitely provide a cliff hanger to urge us to keep reading, but it can also provide a mental break. A place to pause, stop, and think about what we've read. If you're never getting that break, things really seem to drag.

When I write full-length novels, my chapters in mss form are usually around 20 pages long. In actual print they are shorter than that. In my novellas, my chapters are about 10 - 15 pages in mss form.

We often think about the length of sentences and paragraphs and how it effects the pacing of our stories. Chapter length goes along with that as well. So, when you're thinking about the pacing of your story, be sure to think about how long your chapters are, because their length can pick up the pace of your book or slow it way down. Depending on the genre, style, and type of story you're writing, think about how the length of your chapters effects that.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!



  1. I never really thought about it that way, Debra, but that makes a lot of sense. I don't like chapters that are too short, but really long ones drag endlessly.

    1. Oh, these are definitely dragging...

      And I'm sure it's more than just the chapter length, but I decided I didn't like the first book (Which I FINALLY finished last night) to read the rest of the series.

  2. I usually aim for chapters between 3 and 4,000, but that's the length that I feel is right. I don't recall seeing any advice about how long a chapter should be. Like Jen, I don't like very short chapters, or ones that drag.

    1. I'm sure there's no hard and fast rule. It's what works best for you and your story. It was just reading this book made me think about chapter length in a whole new way.