I’ve written a book without chapters. I’ve written books with them. My chapters and scenes tend toward the shorter end of things. In my current work in progress, I’ve been averaging 1600-1800 words a chapter. That book is a young adult one. The book before that was told in diary entries, so the shortest ones were probably less than 30 words total and the longest were nearer to 2000.

Length has been on my mind lately, but that’s not what interests me today. I’ve been thinking about shape. What shape do you like your chapters to be in?

In EGtSV and in JWAW, I’ve found I like my chapters cut and jagged. I tend to stop in the middle of a conversation or immediately after a big event. I’ll drop in a key ingredient and then dash off before the whole thing explodes. Sometimes there isn’t time for the characters to react.

I like these jagged chapters in what I read as well. As much as these cliffhangers in miniature make me want to shake the book to pieces, they keep me reading. Michael Stackpole and Jim Butcher come to mind as authors who pull this off well.

I realize my tendency of stopping chapters abruptly drives some people batty. They don’t want jagged. They want that tiny bit of chapter closure before starting the next part of the course. I’m not good at summing things up nice and neatly.

The hard part is figuring out when to leave things jagged, when to round or when to try and make a hybrid of the two. When is something an effective cliffhanger that will get people to keep turning the pages? When does it become too annoying so they leave without finishing?

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One thought on “Chapters

  1. wonderer

    I think it depends a lot on the effect you’re going for. Sometimes I treat my chapters like short stories, trying to structure them around a single location or event; when the location changes or the event ends, the chapter is over. Other times I end on a cliffhanger or a revelation (what you’re calling “jagged”, I think).

    IMHO, having all cliffhangers can be exhausting because it pushes the reader to finish in one sitting. Sometimes that’s exactly what the author wants – e.g., in thrillers. But personally, as a reader and a writer, I tend to prefer a mixture of cliffhangers and closure.

    Off topic: I need to figure out how long I prefer chapters to be in my reading. When I write, they’re usually 4-5K, but that seems to be longer than most people’s. If my reading preferences are for shorter chapters, I should try to write shorter chapters too.

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