Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Is it Long Enough?

How big is big?
Let’s get down to brass tacks right here, right now: How long should a chapter be?

Simple—Long enough to get the job done.

[Insert your own clever double-entendre here.  I’ll wait.]

Even in our digital age of e-readers that automatically maintain your spot (excellent) chapters still have a purpose.  They give your author a point to sigh in exhaustion and relief, and celebrate with a well-deserved Scotch.  They also provide a (hopefully) natural break in the action for the reader to pause and take care of things like, life and kids and watching Supernatural (Seriously? Eleven seasons and counting!?).

But what about length?  Is the size of the chapter important?

In speaking with a wife of “a certain age”, she suggested it’s not the size of the ship in the sea, but the boat’s motion in the ocean that really counts.

No really, that's what she said!
I assure you, that’s what she said.

Since we know what a chapter’s purpose is, on multiple levels, the only question left to an author is not “Is it long enough?” but rather “Does it get the job done?”  Average (and I use that term extremely loosely) chapters range from 3,000 words to 6,000 words. Authors don’t deal in page count because font, size, and layout aren’t good indicators of length.

That’s also what she said.

Thus, a chapter can be short, sweet and to the point, and should not be held as wanting against other longer, meatier, thicker chapters that drip with description, dialogue and exposition.  The ability to fill out 6,000 full words (or more) doesn’t make a chapter better than one well under 3,000.  A quick, thin, sleek, capable chapter is just as satisfying as one that takes its time.

As an author, you certainly don’t want to try to force a chapter to fill a certain predetermined length—your readers will know what you’re doing and may lose interest.  A chapter can be as short as a single sentence, phrase or even one solitary word.  

The right word, in the right place will take care of business—sausage!

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