Questions for Readers to Aid With WIP

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I have a few quick questions for readers:

How long do you like for your chapters to be?

This is a crime novel that I am putting together.

I am hoping for it to become a series, so the word count per book probably won’t be as long as a stand alone book would be.

I have read some James Patterson, Jonathan and Faye Kellerman recently and find most of the chapters to be short and numerous.

Some of these books have as many as 44 chapters, but still having the same numbers of pages per book as other books with fewer chapters.

Do you like for each chapter to cover just one scene, or do you like two or three scenes in one chapter?

I am using Scrivener for setting up the novel, so scenes are easy to move around.

With my last book, a Historical Fiction/Faction novel, the chapters were very long, 20-30 pages, often with numerous scenes in one chapter, but it covered many years, not just days or weeks. In paperback it has come to 430 pages, 98,000 words. (286 on a reader).

Some people complained that the chapters were too long.

Do you get bored or tired of reading books with long chapters, even if fleurons are used to break up scenes?

Do you feel, as a reader, that shorter chapters are easier to get through?  Do you prefer just one scene per chapter or does it depend on the flow of the story?

This is a new genre for me and genre writing and rules can be very different.

Page counts can be tricky.  The word count per page is typically 350 words.

Word counts for scenes are usually about 1500 to 2000 words (about 5-6 pages).

Some people feel short chapters can be too distracting.

Would you want your chapters to be 2000 words (5-6 pages), or would 6000 words (or would 15-20 pages) work for you?

I am shooting for an 80,000 word count novel.

That would give me just shy of 230 (paperback) pages, maybe a little more.

If it goes as long as 100,000, it would make it roughly 286 pages.

Would you feel like you are getting your money’s worth at 80,000 words or would you want to see at least 100,000?

Any ideas, thoughts, or suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

22 thoughts on “Questions for Readers to Aid With WIP

  1. This is the third time that I posted this comment and if it doesn’t work this time then I shall just give up!! LOL.

    My chapters are between 3,000 – 5,000 words each and usually cover one scene only or two closely related scenes, perhaps ones that happen simultaneously or on the same day. I think that longer chapters can be off putting, particularly if you are needing to do something but want to read to the end of the chapter before you do so.

    In terms of length of book, my understanding is that the average novel should run at between 80,000 – 120,000 words. Mine are both upwards of 130,000 so I am on the heavy side.

    I can’t wait to see how you get on with Scrivener. I am editing chapter by chapter in there at the moment but I know that I am not using it properly!

  2. I like the chapters to be a little bit longer because I am a reader, who likes to much along something or the other while reading. Moreover, I replenish my snacks after completing a chapter. And if there are many many chapters, then ahem, it isn’t good for my stomach. 😀
    Now seriously, for the crime novels, I believe the chapters should be about at least 15-20 pages long because otherwise, it can be a little distracting. You have to captivate the readers so that they would keep on reading and reading. Rapid changes in chapter would break the reading flow.
    The other things like the number of scenes in a chapter depends completely on the story. 🙂

    • Breaking the reader flow is my biggest fear with going with the shorter chapters It seems to be a trend in crime fiction to do that, but I can’t say that I liked it all that well. About the time I was settling into the read, they were carrying me off somewhere else.

  3. I concur with Jade.

    I spent a lot of time and energy trying to find the balance that felt right for my debut historical novel, which transitions a third of the way in into more of an espionage thriller. The result was that the earlier scene-setting, expository chapters ran longer. As the tension mounts and action develops, I found that somewhat longer chapters encompassed best simultaneous action on several fronts from the viewpoints of characters immediately affected by the changing events, interspersed with very short chapters for events taking place far away from the main story thread but which further or complete an arc.

    And as the novel reaches it final action sequences (a twenty-four hour rush) the hard-hitting pace of multiple shorter chapters mirrored the constant and unexpected assault being faced by the protagonists. I’m not a fan of the jolting, throbbing cuts used in many current movies and television programs, where the viewer hardly has a moment to take in the scenery before the camera switches scenes to the pounding pulse of too loud music. But I feel that careful pacing of chapters and chapter length in a novel can support the growing tension of the plot, and variation in chapter length keeps the reader’s attention and can even (intentionally) lull the reader into a false sense of relaxation before the next twist or turn in the plot..

    As to length of novel, I suspect a reader expects to pay a bit more for a longer read, but believe the story writes the word count, not any arbitrary formula. I’ve encountered far too many books where the excess filler becomes obvious (even in works of well-respected and renowned authors). A strong, well-paced thriller or crime novel needn’t run longer than 80,000 to 90,000 words to hit home. An historical novel tends to easily reach the 100,000 plus range because of the wealth of detail or multiplicity of characters that contribute to the verisimilitude and helps the reader feel immersed in another time and place.

    • Thank you for your well thought out comments. My last book started out with much exposition and it tended to be long and verbose. I am trying something new with this work, and have an action scene leading the story. I could stop with this scene, or add a couple more which maintain the storyline that follows without getting too long winded. But a scene in the near future where the murder is described might tend to be long enough to carry an entire chapter, so varying the chapters seems a good plan.

      • Can’t say I was put off by the intro to Red Clay & Roses; thought it transitioned nicely. But for my novel, because I knew some exposition would be necessary for the reader who is not familiar with the social and political climate of Berlin in the ’30s, I start with an action-filled prologue and a first short chapter introducing the main character before immersing him in the troubled and decadent world of depression-era Germany. Looking forward to following your progress on the new crime novel and reading it when it’s out.

        • Thank you. I am, a history buff (mostly American or ancient history) and look forward to yours as well. A book that can teach me something is more entertaining to me than one that simply tells a story.

  4. sorry I can’t help you out on this one, not a big crime fan when it comes to literature of film… anything I said would only be misguided…

    • I appreciate your honesty. This book has some underlying themes that take it much deeper than the typical crime novel. Outsider lifestyles come into play, so it may end up being a bit more in depth and longer than the typical crime novel.

  5. Keep in mind that I am the worst judge of things like this because I always have so many books to read. Here’s my ideal: If you can’t fit it into 70-80k words it is too long and you have crap you could cut out.
    I want short chapters or longer chapters with defined section breaks. I am more likely to read a book if it affords me the opportunity to take breaks and handle real life in between reading.
    ***
    I don’t care if there is one section or two in each chapter as long as they are concurrent and make sense.

    I will be surprised if this comment goes through. But I put a section break in it.

    • It did go through this time and I appreciate the comments. My girlfriend locally liked my book, but it is her habit to read books with shorter chapters for the same reason. She likes to take real life breaks without being lost and having to find her place again when she comes back to it. I found it distracting with John Patterson’s books because the chapters were more like scenes, and that tended to make them feel less story like, more forced, but that seems to be the trend. My husband says he reads books with varied chapters, depending on the plot and flow of the story, so I figure that is how I will work this one. Shorter chapters for the most part, and if I must go over , say 3000-4000 words in a chapter, make sure I have breaks with fleurons to break it up a bit between main ideas while keeping it cohesive.

      • Exactly. It’s when the author has random length chapters that it irks me. One of the books I recently read was like that. A two page chapter followed by a thirty page one with no fleurons

        • That would be hard for me too. It doesn’t allow for any consistency in the read. The reader doesn’t know what to expect, and that could be annoying. On my kindle app, it doesn’t show me page numbers, but on iPad with ePub it does. I like to know how to plan my reading sessions.

  6. I’ll answer just one of your questions: How long should the chapters be? Unless I’m at the beach and can read for long periods, I prefer shorter chapter of 6-8 pages because I usually read in shorter stints and fall asleep. If the chapter is too long, I have fallen asleep and have to re-read it the next day.

    Truthfully, the plot development as it progresses through various scenes should dictate chapter length. As always, provocative questions, SK!

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