Long or Short Scenes and Chapters

About five years ago, I listened to an RWA workshop by a bestselling author in which she talked about writing books with shorter chapters and paragraphs. She’d noticed that the chapters in James Patterson’s books were short, and she concluded that it helped make his books fast-paced page turners – and bestsellers.

After the workshop, I did create shorter chapters for the book I was writing, but it felt as if there were too many chapters for my 65,000-word book, so I returned to my normal-sized chapters.

Trust+No+OneRecently I read Trust No One by Jayne Ann Krentz, and I quickly noticed that the chapters felt shorter than usual. I’d started it in the evening, but even as I grew tired, I thought, I’ll just read one more chapter.

Because I knew the chapters would be short, it felt safe to continue to read. I ended up reading the entire book that night. And sometime during my page-turning night, I realized I needed to go back to the shorter chapters.

For my recently finished book, I ended up with 66 chapters, and the book is just under 59,000 words. So far, four people have read it in the shorter chapter form. Not one of the four mentioned the length or the many chapters. I finally asked the last reader, and I found out that she’s thinking of making the chapters of her next book shorter.

For my own taste, I do like shorter chapters. If a scene goes on for too long, I start to feel antsy. If I’m reading a print book, I’ll sometimes even look ahead to see how many pages there are before the next chapter. If it’s too long, I will stop reading.

For ebooks, this isn’t s easy  to do. If there’s a Table of Contents, I’ll read on until the next chapter. But if there are really long chapters, I will stop – and sometimes I’ll never go back to it. It depends on whether I love the book or if it’s just okay. I have a lot of books on my Kindle, more than I have time to read.

Hope+to+DieIf I feel that way, I think other readers might do the same thing. So if the reader is like me, knowing that the chapter isn’t going to be too long, she’ll feel safe to read on.

I just went to James Patterson’s Amazon page, and clicked on the first book I saw, Hope to Die (Alex Cross Book 22). I read the first 5 chapters, each about one page long. Then I looked at the print book, and it shows 102 chapters. Interesting.

So what are your thoughts? If you know that the chapters and/or scenes are going to be short, are you more likely to read on? Or doesn’t it matter to you?

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8 Responses to Long or Short Scenes and Chapters

  1. Edie, it really depends on the type of book. I usually write chapters of around 2000 – 2500 words, but sometimes, because I write suspense, they are shorter, which reflects the pace of the book. And sometimes the reader needs a breather, so a longer chapter works. If a book is dragging, then yes, if I see a long chapter I’ll abandon ship.

    • Edie Ramer says:

      Michelle, I do have at least one favorite author I can think of offhand who writes long paragraphs and chapters – and I love her writing. I’m not the only one. She’s a bestselling author and has been for many years. So I think there’s room for both kinds of books. Still, I do like page turners, and if a shorter chapter will give me an advantage, then I will take that advantage. 🙂

  2. Mary Hughes says:

    Hi, Edie,

    Great topic! I think the restriction of a phone or ereader screen means there must be a reason to turn the page every 200 words or so, whether tickle of action, dialog or chapter break. Completely agree, so many books, so little time 🙂

    • Edie Ramer says:

      Mary, we have so much competing for our attention. Even besides books, we have texts and TV and a dozen other things. Someone on Facebook said she was watching kids at a dance, and they (the kids) were looking at their phones as they danced. That’s just wrong! lol

  3. Great topic! I think shorter chapters definitely help a book feel like it has a quicker pace and make it easier and more interesting to read. If the chapters are short, I usually want to keep going to see what happens next.
    Jennifer Estep`s last blog was …To pre-order or not to pre-order …

  4. Hi Edie! This was the perfect thing for me to read today as I’m editing and the length of my chapters is definitely something I’m thinking about. I tend to write longer chapters, but I’m definitely on board with shorter ones after reading your post.
    Robin Bielman`s last blog was …Release Day for His Million Dollar Risk!

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