Chapters

(Cross-posted on WriteClub blog)

I am a big fan of chapter breaks. Every story I’ve ever written, bar those less than 10,000 words, has had chapter breaks.

When I am reading a book, I like chapters. I particularly like short chapters. I hate stopping my reading session in the middle of a chapter, because when I come back to the book I have to hunt around the page to work out where I got to last. A chapter break makes it so much easier to find your place. Most of my reading is done on the train, going to and from work. Short chapters make it much easier to work out where to stop. When my train is ten minutes away from its final London destination, I will check and see how long the next chapter is. If it’s short, I can get one more in before it’s time to stop reading and get off the train.

Short chapters are also good when I’m reading in bed. It’s getting late, and I’m tired, but if I’m enjoying the book and the next chapter is only five pages long, I’ll probably read that one before stopping. And maybe the one after that. If I’m looking at 20 more pages until the next chapter break, I’ll probably stop there and turn out the light, no matter how much I’m enjoying the book.

No chapter breaks in a book really bugs me. For all the aforementioned reasons, this is one of my pet peeves. Much as I enjoy Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ series, none of the books contain chapter breaks and it drives me crazy. Lindsey Davis, on the other hand, knows how to write a chapter. Her books about Roman informer Marcus Didius Falco have short, snappy chapters. In fact, she has been known to finish a chapter after one paragraph.

It was pointed out to me recently that my novels always have short chapters. I don’t think this was intended as a compliment, but I saw it that way. Yes, I love short chapters, for all the reasons above, and there are even more reasons to love short chapters when I’m writing them. As I hate putting down a book in the middle of a chapter, I also hate finishing a writing session in the middle of a chapter. Sometimes it’s unavoidable – like if I’ve started a chapter but I don’t know what happens next, so I have to stop and come back to it later. But on the whole, if I come to my WIP with my chapter plan, I know what’s supposed to happen in the chapter when I sit down to write it. My chapters are, on average, 1500 words long – often less. If I’m on a roll, it is possible for me to get that many words written in my hour-long early morning writing session in Starbucks.

Some writers like their 20,000+ word chapters. Some claim to hate chapters completely, preferring to let the narrative flow in unending waves. But I am much more likely to finish reading your book if it has frequent chapter breaks. If I get to page 50 and there’s been no chapter break, there’s a good chance I might abandon it right there. So of course I write short chapters – my writing reflects my reading preferences.

So what about you? Whether you’re a writer, or a reader, what’s your take on chapters?

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