It was once suggested that I tend to write either very long chapters or on the other side of the coin, too short. The same person, a literary agent, made the comment that my novel had too many chapters. He questioned how I determine what the length of a chapter should be and how many should be in the novel. How do I determine where one chapter ends and the next begin? My initial answer, which came from the gut; I end a chapter where it feels right and include as many chapters as is necessary to complete the novel. Now, my chapters are rarely the same length, I vary, and for the most part, there is no rhythm to my variance. I have never considered the length of or amount of chapters to include, but as I pondered and, to be honest, fretted over this, I did some research.
One of the authors I read frequently tends to have short chapter, six to ten pages and writes Young Adult (YA) novels. If we look at another YA author, currently popular, she had thirty-eight chapters with the length anywhere from ten to thirty pages in her longest novel. One author I pick up every time, had over one hundred chapters, of various lengths in his latest release. My humor author once had a chapter that was all of three sentences long, and these are not long sentences, two to three words. Some publishers have their general expectations of word count and chapter length as well as number of chapters; however, I would like to believe these are not set in stone.
It has been suggested that each chapter be as long as ones bladder can last between bathroom visits. Are we talking young adult bladders or those of the elderly. Or the average sitting time for most people. Can you say…attention deficit or whatever the other end of that spectrum is?
Write for your audience, and I try to do this. For the most part my YA fantasy novels lend themselves to shorter chapters even as the length of the novel tends to be longer, so more chapters. My Adult thriller/ romance, has longer chapters, but fewer of them. Another interesting note when I examined my writing, in nearly all my novels, the near center apex of the story, is the longest chapter, and this is consistent in all my novels. Now in my humble opinion, this is right on target.
So what have I learned from this exercise? I learned that I will write the story as it feels correct, or I can attempt to fit into someone else’s expectations of what my writing should be. (A short note on this thought; this same agent suggested I completely change a major aspect of the main character, didn’t happen.) There are no hard and fast rules in the publishing industry, each agent or publisher, has his or her own preconceived ideas of what is “right”, and we can only hope to find a good match for our vision.
I’m fully aware that as a novel enters the publishing track that some things will go through a change and maybe a chapter will be shortened or lengthened or even removed completely. These things we all understand, but that comes from a dialogue with the editor/publisher who has contracted to publish the book.
Take a peek at your own style, where do you fit?