The Long-ish Chapter

Today I'm about to reach the midway point of the new novel I've been working on these past couple of months. I know it'll be the midway because I've plotted out the chapters ahead of time, vaguely, and can't see adding more or subtracting any, either. With this project I've taken a new approach (for me) and have forced myself to write longer chapters (for me), with a pretty constant goal of 25 pages per chapter. Usually the chapters in my work are pretty short, with an average of 7-10 pages. Go ahead-look that shit up!

I don't know if you pay much attention to stuff like chapter length when you read a book, but as a writer I'm very aware of stuff like chapter length, chapter breaks (I use a lot of those), how one chapter leads into another, etc. Individually these choices seem to help or hurt the story overall, sort of like tweaking a recipe you can't fully remember, and it's been interesting as I've forced myself to stretch each chapter until it almost feels like a short story in itself. Novels are already designed to give a big, flowing experience, but as I keep a numerical goal in mind I find each chapter branching out in unexpected ways, with little surprise passages, that I wouldn't have given time to if I was writing in shorter chapters. Given the fact that I'm such a hyper writer, I should have forced myself to take this approach a long time ago, probably back in college.

I'm sure there are writers, especially from back in the day, who write in 50-100 page long chapters. While I don't think that'll ever be my style, you have to admire that chapter length tenacity.


Anonymous said...

Usually I don't notice how long the chapters are, but I have been reading Agatha Christie lately (my usual predictable book to be had with tea) and it has been a particularly bad selection. So, I have developed this new rule where if the book has more than 'x' number of chapters, it is more likely that AC is trying to complicate the story, and it is best avoided...

David Oppegaard said...

Hmmm, I just saw an article in an August New Yorker about Christie. Pretty interesting life. I've actually never read her, as I'm not a big mystery fan.

But I think you may be on to something there. Although, sixty chapters had just sort of become the model for thrillers, the thought being that if people are literally turning a lot of pages they're also entertained. But it does smack of desperation if each chapter is around three-four pages, and each chapter comes from a different point of view. What comes to mind are the horribly written Left Behind books, which I studied as part of a class in grad school (on the apocalypse). Everyone in class read one book in the series, and I had to suffer #3.

Sgt. Misty Peppers said...

Colonel Mustard.
In the Study.

With a matchstick.

Tripple points if a secret passageway is used.

I could never finish a game of Clue b/c I'd always fantasize what it would be like to live in one of those secret passageways that led from the Billiard Room to the Kitchen.
THAT is my only exposure to mysteries.
BTW, Christie ended up getting Alzheimer's. It happened around her 74th book, entitled "something, something, Elephants Never Forget." It was about a mystery writer who was losing her ability to remember things.

Anonymous said...

Ah thanks Sgt! Your comment sent me straight to wikipedia to check what else I might have missed about her... which sent me to Raymond Chandler's Simple Art of Murder page on wikipedia, where he is quoted to have said: "The English may not always be the best writers in the world, but they are incomparably the best dull writers." to which I couldn't resist adding (and sharing) - "yes, which is why it is best to be atleast bilingual."


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