Monday, February 1, 2010


Today, class, we're going to talk about chapters. Well, I'm not really going to talk about chapters, I'm going to let you, dear readers, in the comments talk about chapters.

In my latest, greatest, most brilliant EV-UH, WiP, I have short chapters. I'm talking 2 - 4 pages - MAX!! This is new territory for me. Normally, I have some good lengthy chapters. Okay, not truly lengthy, but normally 10 - 25 pages depending on what's occurring with my characters.

So, my first question (yes, there's more than one): Do you write long or short chapters? Why? Yes, I snuck in a second question. It's my right as a blogger!

Third Question: Do you title your chapters?

Normally, I don't. I'm all about Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Five Hundred. I normally (yes, key word, pay attention here) don't do fancy little titles to my chapters. I've tried that route and it hasn't worked for me, so I stick (well, stuck, since the foreshadowing thingy is done with) with that habit.

In my current WiP, I began to insert chapter titles. I don't know why. I don't know how. I just did. Basically, for this WiP (btw, just by reading this blog you've signed a confidentiality agreement and cannot disclose . . . kidding, a bit snarky this morning) I'm using a sentence from within the chapter as a title. For example: You were my greatest hope and my greatest disappointment. Yes, that's an actual title.

Now, when I begin a chapter, I just title the chapter, well, chapter. It is only as I'm writing the chapter that a sentence suddenly leaps out at me and I know the sentence is actual the chapter title.

So, back to my third question: Do you title your chapters?

Fourth Question: If you title your chapters, how do you do so? What's your formula??

I mean, with me, current WiP, it's a sentence from within the chapter that becomes the title. Do you work in the same way? Different? Spill the details in the comments.

As for my current WiP, it is progressing quite well, short chapters and all. I truly wasn't expecting this project to take off, but it did, so I'm not complaining. I'm just writing when I can write, my notepad is by the bed in case I get a spurt of inspiration at 2 AM - hey, it happens, and I'm enjoying the heck out of writing, even though I know I need to work on my query. I think this writing project is a form of procrastination, but, I'm writing, so, well . . .



Robyn Campbell said...

Sheesh, what's with all the questions?

I write short chapters. I just believe that I can get the pace easier with short.

In SEVENTY TWO HOURS I did not title the chapters. In my new one I am giving the chapters names. Sometimes they are from within the novel itself. CHAPTER FIVE HUNDRED?? YIKES! *grin*

Okay, I title the chapters like this, Chapter one and so forth. In my new one though, the chapters actually have names. =)

And hey, you're stalling. I'm glad you are writing but take one day and work on the query. Sheesh. What would you do without me to push, push, push? Query is callin'. And Putting Pen To Paper might just have a post about that this week. (^_^)

Marybeth Poppins said...

I write mid size chapters. And I tried to name them, but I really sucked at it.

Though I think chapters can be any size. Look at The Davinci Code. Some are as small as 3 pgs and some are more than 5 times that length.

You should be good :)

Jonathon Arntson said...

My YA chapters are usually 1500 words long, just because that's how long I take to fulfill that chapters plot.

I do not title my chapters in the writing phase. I have not gotten far enough along in any given project to make that decision. I def will with my middle grade stuff. I like the idea of chapter 1, 2, 3... and using those numbers as a guide for how far along you are in the book.

James Patterson's chapters drive me flippin' crazy!

Michelle said...

I don't title chapters. As a reader, chapter titles are something I either skip over or instantly forget. With rare exceptions when the chapter titles are very clever.

B.J. Anderson said...

I write short chapters with titles for my middle grade books. When I used to write fantasy, I had chapters numbered with roman numerals and then each scene numbered. It was a giant mess, lol. :D

Heather said...

I vary my chapter length...some are shorter than others. I let the action in the chapter dictate how long it should be. When something exciting/interesting is revealed, I end the chapter. As a reader, I love that feeling of "just one more chapter, then I'll put the book down," so that's what I'm trying to recreate. But I'd say my YA chapters hover around 1500 words, like Jonathon's.

I don't title my chapters, but I'd like to. I'm afraid I'll give something away. I might title them in my next WIP, though. It would be something that hinted at what the chapter was about, but didn't give it away.

Elana Johnson said...

My chapters are short too. I do this because it keeps the pacing quick. I write in short scenes, and sometimes I'll string two together in a chapter. Max length is usually around 10-12 pages. Some are 2. I just do whatever I want.

I don't title my chapters. I hate that. I don't want to know what's in the chapter before I read it. So I purposely don't title mine and I don't read the title chapters in published books.

Psycho? Perhaps.

Great questions!

Scott said...

Robyn - just trying to keep you on your toes! Ha! Yes, I'm stalling, but I have a bit of incentive to un-stall, so I will . . . at some point!

Marybeth - I sucked at naming chapters, so I quit trying. Things just seem to gel with this WiP. Go figure.

Jonathan - I hadn't even thought about word counts in my chapters. I know what I'll be doing this evening. : )

Michelle - good point. I guess I'm an odd duck (no comments Robyn) that I do read the chapter titles.

B.J. - I don't number my chapters anymore until I reach the final draft phase. My problem: during revisions I'd omit or add a chapter and then have to go through and change all my Chapter Twelves to Chapter Eleven or Thirteen, and so on. Talk about a nightmare. In one draft phase, I had two Chapter Thirteens. Geesh. : )

Heather - I'm letting the action dictate the chapter length in this project. I get to a point in the chapter that just seems right to end . . . and leave the reader hanging on for dear life . . . and move on to the next chapter. I've tried titling the chapters before and it never seemed to work. It is working with this project, so I'm going with it, but this is only the rough draft stage, so there's no telling what will happen by the final draft.

Elana - I'm seeing more votes for short chapters versus long chapters. Hmmmm . . . I'm pretty much just winging it with this current WiP. Sometimes 2 pages, most times 4 or 5, just whatever seems right at the time. Psycho?? Hmmm, does my response affect my chances of winning contests on your blog in the future? Ha! I do read the chapter titles. I'm weird that way. : )

Robyn Campbell said...

Slow on the uptake? Is that all you've got? HA!

Robyn Campbell said...

You are treadin' thin ice! Thin, thin ice! I think you mean the PREEMINENCE that is the Dolphins. Don'tcha?

Jon Paul said...

Hey Scott! Thanks for follow.

I think the material dictates chapter length and title/no title. Many times, I write shorter chapters when I'm concerned about pace and keeping the tension high, but other material seems to lend itself to longer runs between breaks.

I don't generally title chapters, but I could see how it would be useful for historical or conceptual fiction, where the chapter title helps tie things together or clarify an idea from the text--and certainly haven't ruled it out as a tool if necessary. But my current preference is no title.

Great post BTW.

Robyn Campbell said...

BULL'S EYE!! Ahahahaha

Lydia Sharp said...

Long or short?
I'm somewhere in between. Novel #1 averaged 10-20 pages per chapter. Novel #2 averaged 8-12 pages per chapter. Novel #3 (my current WiP) is averaging 8-15 pages per chapter. However, my chapters contain anywhere from 1-4 scenes (sometimes more if there are many short scenes), and some of my scenes are as short as half a page.

Chapter titles?
Not really. The closest thing I've come to in this regard was with my first novel. I kept them chapter one, chapter two, etc, but tagged each one with a character quote before the start of the chapter. Unlike you, these quotes are unique as chapter headings, and are not found anywhere in the actual story. I think the purpose is the same, though. They give the reader a hint about the chapter theme while at the same time giving insight on the characters.
I'm really happy with the way it turned out, and since that particular novel is meant to be the start of a series, I'm planning on doing this for all the books that follow it.

Fun post. :)

Lydia Sharp said...

Oh, I hit "publish" before I was done. Sorry.
I wanted to mention that there are so many different ways of dividing chapters or sections of a novel. In Small Miracles by Edward M. Lerner, the chapters are divided by the date on which the events occurred. This works for that particular novel because much of what takes place is only a few days or weeks apart. And the final third of the book is the same day, but at different times of the day, and the reader has to follow a bunch of people in different places at the same time, so these chapters also included the time of day.
The chapters were further grouped into sections that had their own one-word titles that were relevant to the happenings of the main plot. I thought this was an effective way to keep the reader focused and oriented in a story so complex that it could easily lose you in the shuffle.

Labeling groups of chapters seems to be a common occurrence in sci-fi and fantasy. That's where I see it the most. Other examples of naming the chapters and/or the sections (in novels I've read recently):
Matter by Iain M. Banks
Marsbound by Joe Haldeman
Kindred by Octavia Butler
Green by Jay Lake
The Last Will of Moira Leahy by Therese Walsh
And in the Pern books by Anne McCaffrey the chapters are headed with a poem, and the sections (Parts) are given different titles.

So many choices. There is no right or wrong, but I think some methods are more effective than others. As a reader, if I don't see the relevance of a title or any other "additive", it's frustrating. Even the title of the book has to have clear association with the story or it drives me bonkers.

Davin Malasarn said...

My first book had very short chapters. 3-4 pages. For me, it just felt easy at the time, and because my story bounced around between different characters, it helped me not lost track of anyone for too long. But, now I'm challenging myself to write longer chapters. LIke, 100 pages. I don't think I will leave my current book this way, but I thought it would be fun to try it. I don't name my chapters, because it's hard enough to name my books. I hate names.

Robyn Campbell said...

Hey, why ya talking all nasaly? Ahahahahaha


Jemi Fraser said...

I tend to write very short chapters as well - rarely more than 10 pages, usually 2-5. I have 2 main characters. They both have chapters from their own pov. I like to switch pov often, so that means short chapters. (Was that confusing enough??) :)

Corra McFeydon said...

I write chapters as long/short as they need to be to complete the scene. I don't title the work except for my critiquing group - because I have to.)


from the desk of a writer

Scott said...

Jon Paul - you're welcome. I agree that the material dictates. For whatever reason, this WiP dictated shorter chapters and the inclusion of titles. Who knows what the next WiP will dictate?

Lydia - whoa, your comment could be its own blog post. : ) Thanks for all the info. In my about to query project, I separated sections (i.e. different perspectives in chapters) by a series of asteriks between sections. I didn't title the chapters. I think Jon Paul hit it on the mark when he mentioned chapters dictating length/titles.

Davin - I'm with you on the feeling easy. The chapters just seemed to define themselves as short and concise. I would just reach a point in the writing and somehow 'know' the chapter should end. Now, about those 100 page chapters . . . don't do it!! My stopping point for reading sometimes is the end of the current chapter. With your 100 page rule, I'd be reading all day long. : )

Jemi - in my current WiP, the POV shifts with each chapter. I think that's why I decided to go with short chapters. In a previous WiP, I used three perspectives for chapters and broke the chapters up into clearly defined sections. I think we do what feels best for us . . . and hope future agent understands. : )

Cora - I think all writers pretty much do the same. This WiP seemed to need short chapters . . . and titles, though I normally stray away from chapter titles.


Lydia Sharp said...

Haha. You caught me in a wordy mood. :)

Tess said...

Interesting comments going on over here. My chapters are in the 8-14 page range but that's pretty typical of middle grade. I like the idea of maybe slipping a 2 pager in here and there to keep the reader on his/her toes. Very clever, you all are :D

Cindy said...

I usually stick with a pretty consistent chapter length of 8-12 pages. Not so with my last manuscript because I had flashback chapters. With my current WIP, I've found I'm back to the 8-12 pages again, although I seriously thought about titling my chapters because I wanted something different and unique for this manuscript--not to mention it's a stray from my normal genre. I'm still figuring it all out, though.

myliteraryquest said...

Mine really bounce back and forth in length, some are very short with a few pages and some much longer. As for naming them they get a working title so I know what's going on in them while writing and then I'm planning on cutting them after. There is nothing more aggravating than not being able to find what you are looking for when checking for continuity.