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Taejang
11-04-2014, 07:12 AM
I'm looking at how my novel is divided up into chapters and realized I have a problem. I put this in the sci fi/fantasy section because I think how this is done here might be different than other genres.

Running some numbers, I counted 332 words on a page of a published book. At 391 pages and 18 chapters, that's roughly 130k words in the book and 7.2k words a chapter.

My first chapter is 6k words long, but my second clocks in at 15k. I know there are no hard rules on chapter lengths, and some will vary drastically, but my chapter 2 seems "long" to me when I read it.

Beyond the numbers and "size" of a chapter, I'm contemplating when to split chapters. I know ideally you split when changing locations, when following different characters, or after particularly momentous things occur, and usually during scene breaks.

Anybody have some decent, general advice on when to split things up in a fantasy novel?

Osulagh
11-04-2014, 07:27 AM
Running some numbers, I counted 332 words on a page of a published book. At 391 pages and 18 chapters, that's roughly 130k words in the book and 7.2k words a chapter.

Fiction pages are typically calculated in 250 words or around, but it's useless hanging on how many pages a book has when word count only matters. Don't calculate how many word there are in your book. Look at how many words there are through your word processor.


I know there are no hard rules on chapter lengths, and some will vary drastically, but my chapter 2 seems "long" to me when I read it.

Did it seem long before you roughly calculated how many words there are? I bet not. But now it does, right?

If you want to cut it up, go ahead. Find someplace that feels you can sink a knife through. There are no decent guidelines for this. Feel for it.

Otherwise, I see no use in worrying about chapter length. What matters more is the content of that chapter and if you're able to carry the reader through it. No matter what the size of the chapter is, if you fail on those two regards, your story has failed for the reader.

rwm4768
11-04-2014, 08:39 AM
Fiction pages are typically calculated in 250 words or around, but it's useless hanging on how many pages a book has when word count only matters. Don't calculate how many word there are in your book. Look at how many words there are through your word processor.

In SF/F, the average is at least 300 words per page. 250 is more common for YA SF/F, and the font is huge in those.

Mallory
11-04-2014, 09:13 AM
Seconding what Osu said - it's about content, not word length.

I've seen bestsellers that have some long chapters and some short ones. It's about plot-related or style-related artistic separation in the right places, not splitting off chunks based on size. Like if you're an artist, you pick your paintbrush size based on the type of stroke that's best for your work (and probably different sized strokes in the same painting), not based on what Picasso used, you know?

blacbird
11-04-2014, 11:02 AM
Fiction pages are typically calculated in 250 words or around.

Only in standard double-spaced Courier 12-point manuscript format. Which is not a bad thing, but becoming obsolete, in the days of the word-processor, which gives you a ~exact word count. Agents/editors today understand this word-processor word count, and what it means for the size of a book.

Published books commonly run ~300 words per page, up or down a bit. But word count is really all that matters. And words per chapter matter next to nothing at all.

caw

John Ayliff
11-04-2014, 02:32 PM
If your first two chapters are all you have so far, it might be worth waiting until you've finished your entire draft before going back and thinking about re-splitting chapters.

FWIW, 15k does seem on the long side to me, so if there's a good point half way through that chapter you could split it, then I'd consider it - but if there's a good artistic reason why the 15k chapter should stay as a coherent whole then that's more important than word count. Also, this could just be my personal preference for short chapters.

Taejang
11-04-2014, 06:56 PM
Don't calculate how many word there are in your book. Look at how many words there are through your word processor.

Did it seem long before you roughly calculated how many words there are? I bet not. But now it does, right?
The 332 words per page is from a book in Jack Campbell's Lost Fleet series. AKA a published sci-fi book, not my book. I definitely don't manually count the words in my Libre Office documents.

I previously calculated the rough number of words in a book to gauge how long mine was by comparison. After reading through my 2nd chapter for revisions, it felt long- that's when I calculated words in a chapter. So yes, it felt long and THEN I calculated.


If your first two chapters are all you have so far, it might be worth waiting until you've finished your entire draft before going back and thinking about re-splitting chapters.
I'm at just under 50k words, which should be somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of my target book size. I'm partway through my 4th chapter. I've been leaving the chapter designations til later, but in preparation for sending out chunks for advice, I thought it would be better to properly break it up.

Thanks for the responses and advice! I'm hearing about what I expected, that the word count per chapter doesn't matter at all and somehow I just need to "feel" where to break it up. Which is a little abstract for me, but that's how we writers do a lot of things, isn't it? ;)

Debbie V
11-04-2014, 07:52 PM
When you are done with the entire manuscript, make a list of scenes. Often, I find a group of scenes that focus on the same theme or events. Those are a chapter. My chapter titles come from the theme for the group.

This is not something to focus on in early drafts. You're likely to cut and move scenes around or combine scenes as you revise. You may even add a scene or two. Save worrying about this until the third draft, when the work has more focus and the path of the story is clear.

Also, consider that there are books with half page chapters and books with no chapters. Do what the story needs. Feeling your way will be easier when you reach this point.

rwm4768
11-04-2014, 08:49 PM
15K does seems like a long chapter to me. Are there scene breaks within the chapter? If not, that's a lot to read at once.

My chapters tend to be between 2,000 and 4,000 words.

Taejang
11-04-2014, 09:00 PM
When you are done with the entire manuscript, make a list of scenes. Often, I find a group of scenes that focus on the same theme or events. Those are a chapter. My chapter titles come from the theme for the group.

This is not something to focus on in early drafts. You're likely to cut and move scenes around or combine scenes as you revise. You may even add a scene or two. Save worrying about this until the third draft, when the work has more focus and the path of the story is clear.
This makes sense, but how then do you get feedback as you write? I suppose I can just give people scenes instead of chapters...

As for making a list of scenes, I have a table of contents in the Libre document. Each scene has a title in H3 header format, which Libre uses to update the table, and I can click on the table to move directly to that scene. Took me about 5 minutes to figure out and has saved me absurd amounts of time flipping back and forth between scenes during edits. I describe this as a recommendation to anyone who doesn't have it in place (Open Office and Word can also do it).


15K does seems like a long chapter to me. Are there scene breaks within the chapter? If not, that's a lot to read at once.
There are currently 14 scenes inside that chapter, so... yep. But even that seems like a lot for one chapter. I'm going to have to find some way to break it up.

hefronica
11-04-2014, 10:17 PM
Interesting question. I never considered the word count. I always ended the chapter when it felt right (hard to gauge, I know). For me that's when the scene concluded but left enough questions for the reader to want to continue.

I've also broken my book into 6 parts ('Before the Quest', 'Quest for the First Item,' 'Quest for the Second Item', etc.) with each part broken up into maybe 7-8 chapters each. Most of those chapters focus on a particular character. Towards the end when I'm switching between antag and protag's POV, I combine them into the same chapters mostly to keep the chapter length consistent with the previous chapters, but also because a lot of time it's the same thing happening from a different POV.


There are currently 14 scenes inside that chapter, so... yep. But even that seems like a lot for one chapter. I'm going to have to find some way to break it up.

When you say 'scenes' do you mean parts told from different character POVs? 14 seems like an awful lot for one chapter. Reminds me of the Dan Brown or James Patterson way of making each one of those a separate chapter. Sometimes their chapters are only half a page long before they jump to another chapter in another character's POV for half a page (yeah, yeah, I know that's not scifi/fantasy. Well, a different kind of fantasy. ;)).

Filigree
11-05-2014, 12:21 AM
My quick & dirty method in Word: I hit a point where I think I might have a chapter break, drop three spaces, type 'Chapter', drop another three spaces, and go to the next scene. I don't bother to number them until later drafts. And I tend to keep chapters within 1200 to 3000 words, but with more focus on scenes than arbitrary word or page count.

Roxxsmom
11-05-2014, 01:15 AM
Word counts vary hugely per page, depending on style of book (trade pb, mm pb, or hardcover), and of course font size, margins, spacing etc. It ranges from less than 250 per page to over 400, with an average for adult SF/F being somewhere around 300 or so.

I remember reading somewhere that a typical chapter is around 3700 words in adult fiction, but there is no set in stone number, and chapter lengths can vary greatly between books, or even within the same book.

Filigree
11-05-2014, 05:46 AM
I'm also a fan of the short chapter used sparingly for dramatic effect: a few paragraphs, maybe a page. It can set off the surrounding plot, give breathing space for readers, and let them know 'this is important'.

M. D. Ireman
11-05-2014, 05:59 AM
Just follow two rules:
1. Don't let a chapter drag on and be boring
2. Don't end a chapter at a point where the person doesn't care to read about that particular viewpoint again.

In other words, chapter length doesn't matter a damn bit. What's in the chapters is what is vitally important.

Laer Carroll
11-05-2014, 07:16 PM
It is purely up to you how long you make chapters. They are more of a book-keeping tool for writers than anything meaningful for readers. To them if you make your story really engaging, the end of a chapter is just another unnoticed page turn as they eagerly continue reading. Or it can serve as a useful place to dog-ear a page while they rush to the bathroom to take care of urgent business.

The basic unit of a story is the scene, a series of connected events with a definite beginning and ending in time and space. The time scale might range from microseconds to millennia, the space might be a long path or a small area.

Some scenes are short: only a few events. Some are very long: many events. We may put one scene per chapter. More often we'd put several short scenes into one chapter. Or we might split a long scene over several chapters.

If a scene is long, we might end a chapter when an important event takes place. Such as a character exiting or entering a scene, or the main character changes their course, maybe reversing it (the chased becomes the chaser) or taking a side path.

Basically, chapters (and scenes) are literary tools for us to make creative use of, rather than follow any formula for their use.

Twick
11-05-2014, 08:05 PM
Chapters are like paragraphs. They should have one basic theme.

So, if that long chapter is all on the same theme or scene, keep it. But if it goes something like "My characters are at the inn, arguing over the next step. They decide, then leave the inn and take that step," you might be able to break it at the point of the decision into two chapters.

If you can find a point that serves as a bit of a cliff-hanger in the middle, that's a good stopping point.

K.S. Crooks
11-08-2014, 09:30 PM
I think of chapters in terms of what I want to be accomplished by the characters. If they need to travel a great distance to find an artifact, then the travelling is one chapter and the search is another. If the searching has many obstacles involved then it could take more chapters.

Once I know what needs to happen, then I write if a chapter is longer than another its okay, some things take more time than others, readers know this. I am up to chapter five in writing the sequel to my first novel. Chapters average 5000 words, however chapter 1 is 7000 word and chapter 2 is 3000.
If you want to adjust the number of words in a chapter you can change the difficulty of whatever happens on the chapter or use random events, that do not affect the main story, to alter a chapters length. Most books have chapters that are widely different than most of the others, the same way some events in a person's life get more time than others (planning a wedding vs planning a birthday party). Hope this helps.

Debbie V
11-11-2014, 08:18 PM
This makes sense, but how then do you get feedback as you write? I suppose I can just give people scenes instead of chapters...

I rarely seek opinions without a completed draft.

I put in arbitrary chapter breaks where I think they might be. I look at the theme and action in each scene and group accordingly. They change though. Chapters get combined as part of tightening up the story and breaks move because scenes have been moved, deleted, or added.

In fact, I may end up going through my steps more than once. My betas will tell me if the chapter end doesn't work too.