2020 – Week 10 and Tailoring Chapter/Scene Length to your Audience

I met my goal this week and tweaked my latest scene, chapter 7 scene 2 which is the subject of my “Evolution of a Scene” series, which you can read about here, and I also have my first draft of the next scene about 75% completed.

I don’t know if I want to tack this latest scene onto chapter 7 or start a new chapter with it. I’ll have to see how it flows and what the final word count is after I finish it. I don’t like making chapters too long, but I also don’t like starting new chapters if it doesn’t feel like a natural place to stop. This scene shows my characters leaving a location where they’ve been for several chapters, so in my head it feels more natural as a conclusion to a chapter than a beginning.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how I want my book structured: Chapters comprised of multiple scenes; or a chapter per POV/GoT style?

V12 was structured into chapters with titles, and was sectioned off according to a word length/event type formula which really wasn’t very accurate. For example, I had a chapter titled Thellshun, where 2 scenes took place in the realm of Thellshun, but since those 2 scenes were short, I chucked in a scene from another POV which took place in the Shallinath realm so that the chapter length was a consistent range with the others. So the chapter title only fit 2/3 of the chapter. A little confusing for the reader.

For consistency’s sake for v19, I decided to remove chapter titles and just use numbers (chap 1, chap 2, etc), and then base the length off of word count, between 4000-5500 words, which is usually 2 or 3 scenes.

This is a common way to parcel out a novel, I’ve seen it quite a bit and I like it as a reader.

But I also like knowing exactly whose POV it is when I enter the chapter, and the current setup isn’t as friendly in that department as I’d like. I may start a chapter with Gonivein, but before I’m done I’m back to Gadnor. So what? Well, doing that means that the first paragraph of every scene requires another introduction, which wouldn’t be necessary if each chapter was a unique POV.

The problem I have with POV chapters is the potential for inconsistent chapter length. Kelric’s scene might be 4 pages, but when I switch over to Gadnor, he has two back to back which are 4 each, so do I combine them into one 8 page chapter? Have the same POV in back to back chapters? What if one scene is only 2 pages?

All of these are options I need to weigh carefully. And a lot will come down to the flow of the finished product. Hopefully, a beta reader can provide me a recommendation. I may decide to send out a word count multi-scene version and a POV version to beta readers with some type of rubric so I can get a standardized feedback response, and from there determine which chapter format works best to heighten interest.

Why is this so important, you ask? The story is still the same, right? Well, like it or not, chapter structure can make a huge difference in how your reader experiences your book. If there’s a 20 page chapter looming ahead, I may get overwhelmed and put it off for weeks, and maybe never come back to it if life gets too busy, even if the writing is engaging and the story is interesting. Smaller chapters could remedy this.

On the flip side, it may be hard to keep track of placement in a novel if there are too many chapters. And varied length of chapters, personally, I find annoying. When I have a chapter that is 2 pages, and the next one is 11, I get a little bit twitchy. As a reader, there are certain things I would like to just expect ahead of time before I sit down to read, such as if I have time while I wait on my pizza to be ready to finish a chapter, consistency of length will give me that. Even though it doesn’t change the overall story much, it still can add or take away from the overall experience.

A good example of this is the last book I read, it was 140 pages in length, but there were NO chapter breaks. None. There were little squigglies to denote a change in scene, but it just wasn’t the same. I felt like I needed to read the whole thing in one sit down, which was just too much, and when I paused at a scene break I didn’t feel like it was a good stopping place. It just tilted my reading experience.

So. Moral of the story: chapter breaks matter. Scene breaks matter, chapter and scene length matter. So before you publish, consider carefully how your manuscript is structured, because regardless of how good your story is, how engaging your plot, how buttoned up your editing–your readers have lives outside of your book. Pauses and breaks should compliment your audience and the pacing of your plot.

My goal for this week is to go through the editing process for ch 7-2 and finish my ch 7-2/ch 8-1 scene and figure out where it needs to go.

Happy writing!