backstory, chapters, editing

Chapter Lengths & Editing

I experienced a glorious day off yesterday. I donned my sweats, lit a yummy smelling candle, poured a Diet DP into a pretty glass, and cuddled with my laptop in my cozy chair. Pure bliss. A little piece of heaven. And oh, I was productive.

I took my 13 page First Chapter and my 4 page Second Chapter and combined them. I took the crits I had received recently and deleted, added, cut, and pasted to my heart’s delight. I used that delete button ruthlessly, cutting out the backstory that weighed my chapters down. Well, not all of it, but a lot of it!
I debated combining my first two chapters because I really liked the ending line of the first chapter. It is a real “hook”. But with the second chapter only 4 pages long, I felt I needed to combine them. I could have combined the second and third chapter, but I am getting these chapters ready for some contests and thought it’d be good to have the heroine and hero both show up in the first chapter.
What would you do? Combine and mess up your hook? Or let it be and have uneven chapters? Do chapter lengths matter? What is the an average chapter length anyway?
Did I give you enough questions to choose from?

32 thoughts on “Chapter Lengths & Editing”

  1. I don't think there is an 'average' chapter length any more. Lately I read a book where just one or two pages made up a chapter. Another book (the Life of Pi) has uneven chapter lengths throughout. So I'd go with what works for your story. I do like to idea of ending with a great hook though. Can you rework it to be at the end of that chapter in someway even if they are combined?

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  2. My chapter lengths change from book to book. For the one I'm working on now, each chapter is about 10-15 pages. The one I wrote before, the chapters were much shorter!

    I have a feeling big things are coming your way Sherrinda! Maybe a contest final this year??

    Congrats on your productive day yesterday. Those are the best!

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  3. My chapters usually run ten pages, but I write contemporary. Historicals can be longer, I bet. Tabitha is right that there's no rule about it.
    You can still have a hook you know. What's the conflict of the first chapter and the whole story? Have one of the characters think a one-liner at the end of the chapter, or something, about the conflict.
    I definitely think you need to end on a hook, but I also like that you're having the hero and heroine meet in the first chapter.
    Good luck! And it sounds like a lovely day. 🙂

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  4. Chapter lengths don't bother me. I get that some chapters have more going on in them than others and the short ones are usually a nice break. I have to stop and start a lot with my little ones. It's easier to find my place when I can actually stop at a chapter's end. 😀

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  5. I love the way you express your enjoyment of the writing process. I love that you lit a candle and made it special. It's refreshing to read about the joy of writing, instead of how hard it is.

    I know it's work. But I like to think of it as a work of love.

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  6. I think first chapters are often longer than subsequent ones. I treat chapters like the book as a whole. I let them be as long as they need to be. I actually like to vary chapter length a bit. It makes it more interesting. And I love hooks, so if it were me, I'd probably do it the first way.

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  7. I'm a 10-15 page chapter person. I read a book once that chapters were 1-2 pages, then a 5 pager thrown in… and i found it quite distracting. Too many abrupt endings. I like it to flow so that I don't even notice most of the time. But I love a good chapter-ending hook. Good luck. It seems there are a lot of people editing right now. Misery loves company.

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  8. You made a good decision. I think seeing both characters in the beginning is critical. I'm no expert about the “rules” but uneven chapters doesn't sound like a good idea.

    Ending with a gripping hook is a keeper!

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  9. Chapter length, quite often, depends on the genre. A suspense novel can half quite short chapters, choppy, breathless, tugging you on to the next one. Brandilyn Collins and James Scott Bell write this way. Both have had chapters that were only a couple paragraphs long. Every time the POV shifted, the chapter changed. It works well for suspense.

    Historical readers expect longer chapters, a bit of a slower pace as you go into greater detail on the setting (Not that you want to bog the story down with flowery descriptions of the sunsets over the castle, or anything) but a richer, deeper tapestry feeling.

    Some authors always have 20 chapters in their books. they know the inciting incident has to happen at chapter three, the black moment at chapter seventeen, etc. They structure their book to have a certain number of chapters.

    I like to have chapters that are all about the same length, but this is because I usually have two POV's per chapter, Hero's and Heroine's. One of each = a chapter. Then I have to get creative to make sure each scene and each chapter ends with a nice hook. 🙂

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  10. I'm lost in the editing forrest right now. It's a lot of cut and cut and paste and questions on do I have the heart to cut some more. I always save every word in a move file. I figure I can always canabalize later right?

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  11. My chapters are pretty uneven already, but I also did quite a bit of combining, which ended up making them MORE uneven. Unfortunately, my chapters are cut by date more than anything else– so I can't combine things any further than they already have been without messing up the order of things which take place decades, if not centuries apart.

    As long as your second chapter (or now your new first) has a good hook at the end too, I don't think it's a bad plan to combine!

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  12. I don't think chapter lengths matter that much. I write really short chapters, usually not longer than 10-12 pages. But sometimes they're only 2 pages. I'm just crazy like that.

    Good job with all you got done!

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  13. Hi Sherrinda –

    My chapter lengths are usually around 16 double-spaced pages. In past edits, I've trimmed and combined chapters. I also eliminated an entire chapter because it contained a large flashback.

    The rule of thumb with backstory according to Nancy Rue and Angela Hunt is no backstory for the first 30-60 pages.

    Blessings,
    Susan 🙂

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  14. Im having the same problem…where to divide the chapters so they make sense, but aren't too long or too short. Is it really that important to end each chapter with a “hook”?

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  15. Oh, lands. I'd make it as compelling as possible and not worry so much about the length. There seems to be such a variation in number of chapter pages these days!

    So glad you are making such great progress!!!

    Patti

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  16. I just got home and devoured your comments! I love the variations and the different feelings about chapter lengths and great “hooker” endings. You all have definitely given me something to mull over. 🙂 I love you ladies!!!!

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  17. So many questions! Haha. Just kidding. 😉 I used to be adamant that all my chapters by lengthy. I would obsess over what I thought was the right length. However, I don't think length matters so much as content. You know, quality vs. quantity. So chapter length isn't a big deal as long as what your saying is crucial to the story and not just jibber-jabber.

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  18. Hi Sherrinda, Sounds like the perfect day. I've been considering combining my first to chaps. on my current WIP, because chap 1 is only about 2,000 words long, yet it has two pov scenes that I'm satisfied with and seems very complete and ends with a hook. All my chaps. seem to be between 2,000-3,500 words even though I writie historica fiction. I prefer shorter chaps when I'm reading, maybe this is why. I'm still second guessing myself about this short chapter length, but maybe it is just my thing. I do think that it is critical to have a hook at the end of every chap to keep those pages turning.

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  19. I started off my current WIP with a goal of ten pages per chapter. The result? A mess. I added fluff to some chapters just to hit the goal. Others I cut short in the wrong place. I stopped worrying about chapter length, and the book started to flow much better. I think the real question is does the second chapter feel rushed or too short being the current length? Hope that helps.

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  20. I say go with whatever feels right for your book with chapter lengths… but maybe I'm just a rebel that way 🙂 Heehee. So what if one chapter is 10 pages and the other is 4? Go with the flow of the story!

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  21. Hi Sherrinda–
    Great questions. I'm struggling with the issue myself. I've decided to end the chapter where it's natural and on a hook, but to try and do it within a reasonable amount of pages. Have you considered adding a scene to your second chapter? If you can add one that moves the story forward and do it prior to your scene that ends on a hook, you'll be golden. I did that with one of my chapters, and I thought that the scene helped matters immensely.

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  22. For me, it's the story that demands. Follow your gut, Sherrinda. Whatever makes the story pop, go with it? I don't mind books with varying chapter length at all, in fact, it's the variance that often adds a wonderful rhythm to a story for me.

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  23. Definintely combine and mess up the hook. I've had to do this many times. I know chapters can be any length, but they generally seem to be an average length throughout a book. So I've chopped, pasted, rearranged and revised to make things come out right. Usually it ends up being much better in the long run.

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