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  • Chapter length and starting new novel
    by Beverley at 13:32 on 08 January 2009
    Hi

    I have started writing my novel now, but not sure about the chapter length:

    The book is a romantic crime thriller and I am aiming to write 100,000 words. Would aiming for 2000-4000 words per chapter be okay.

    Should I stick to one scene per chapter.

    Thanks: Beverley
  • Re: Chapter length and starting new novel
    by NMott at 14:22 on 08 January 2009
    It is a personal thing; there are no hard and fast rules on chapter length.
    I aim for about 2-4 scenes per chapter, or even two and a half, or three and a half, scenes in a chapter, where I've chopped a scene up so it spans two chapters if the content of the piece calls for it.


    - NaomiM
  • Re: Chapter length and starting new novel
    by susieangela at 14:42 on 08 January 2009
    I agree with Naomi: it's what the book requires. Most of my chapters are about 2,000 words (short compared with the average, I would think, but fine). The other thing is, once you have a first draft, you can think more about structure.
    Good luck with it!
    Susiex
  • Re: Chapter length and starting new novel
    by EmmaD at 15:09 on 08 January 2009
    As Naomi says, it depends on what you need - there are no hard and fast rules. A chapter's the second-biggest unit of of a novel, so it's worth thinking about how you can use the chapter-structure best. What is a chapter saying about all the things within it? Why are those scenes and links together, why does it break where it does, what extra power or significance does being at the beginning or end, of a chapter do to whatever words or scenes have that position. For what it's worth, my WIP is planned at 10 chapters, and I'm expecting them to come out between 10,000 and 15,000 words each, very roughly in two halves of 6,500. But some people write the whole thing in one, and then divide it up afterwards, once they can see what they've got and where the divisions should be. And most people are somewhere in between, I would guess.

    In case it helps, I've just been blogging about ways to think about structure, here:

    http://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/2009/01/building-the-bridge.html

    Emma
  • Re: Chapter length and starting new novel
    by Beverley at 17:27 on 08 January 2009
    Thanks every for your help. I think I will go with the suggestion to write the thing and then decide on chapters once the first draft is done.

    Thanks:
    Beverley
  • Re: Chapter length and starting new novel
    by DeniseJane at 10:27 on 09 January 2009
    How about approaching it from a reader's point of view? When I'm reading a novel I like chapters that aren't too long if the whole book is itself lengthy. I find long chapters can be dispiriting especially if I'm reading just before bed-time and I don't want to stop mid-chapter as I'm dozing off! However, if the writing is good, I suppose chapter length shouldn't come into the equation!! I do have a soft spot for novels that are in sections rather than chapters - don't know why, just a style thing. Do you know what I mean?
  • Re: Chapter length and starting new novel
    by Beverley at 13:18 on 09 January 2009
    Hi Denis

    As a newbie - I can't think what you mean about writing in sections.

    I think I am going write it and let the chapters fall into place at editing phase. However, I will bear in mind about the short chapters.
  • Re: Chapter length and starting new novel
    by melsheff at 11:16 on 16 January 2009
    Hi,

    I struggled with this chapter issue for a while and took advice from sites around the web - including this one.

    As a result I cobbled this together and use it as amodel for myself. It works for me, but may not work for everyone so take it with a pinch of salt.

    Chapters:
    3500 5000 word long.
    2000 words minimum

    Book length overall:
    Super Plus Novel: 100,000+ words
    Plus Novel: 70,001-99,999 words
    Novel: 45,001-69,999 words
    Short Novel: 30,000-44,999 words
    Novella: 15,000-29,999 words
    Quickie: up to 15,000 words

    Hope it helps

    Mel
  • Re: Chapter length and starting new novel
    by Beverley at 12:11 on 16 January 2009
    Mel

    Thanks for this it will be very useful.

    Beverley
  • Re: Chapter length and starting new novel
    by EmmaD at 12:26 on 16 January 2009
    Mel, it's a great list, but I have to say that from the book trade point of view, it's extremely hard to sell a novel under 70,000 words, except as Mills & Boon-type category fiction, which are around the 50,000 word mark. At the commercial end of the spectrum the large majority are 80,000-110,000, with shorter and longer possible as you move towards the literary end - say 65,000-130,000. Doesn't mean yours has to be in that bracket - fundamentally it should be as long as it needs to be, as should the chapters. But if it's significantly different a publisher will start worrying about other issues: for example, it's often thought very difficult to launch a debut author with a very slim volume, and production costs do increase if the book's very fat. (Novellas i.e. 20,000-50,000, like short story collections, are also virtually impossible to get an agent for, or sell to a mainstream house, although an agent who likes working with authors just might take you on on the strength of such, in order to help you write the novel they hope to be able to sell.)

    I can't remember which WWer it is, but one of us, having debuted with a 90,000 word novel, is contracted for the next one to be 'around' 120,000. Certain genres - historical sagas, sf/f - may well be up to 200,000. And no one even commented on the fact that my first novel was 141,000, or the new one is almost the same.

    Emma
  • Re: Chapter length and starting new novel
    by NMott at 12:29 on 16 January 2009
    Interesting, Melshelf, but, while some of your figures may be statisitcal averages, they are out of date with regards to prefered novel lengths in currently publishing circles.

    Plus Novel: 70,001-99,999 words
    Novel: 45,001-69,999 words
    Short Novel: 30,000-44,999 words
    Novella: 15,000-29,999 words


    Modern novels are rarely less than 80K. And McEwans's On Chesil Beach is technically a novella at 48K - no debut novelist would get away with calling a 50K manuscript a novel unless it was written for the Children's or Teen markets.
    Some genres such as romantic fiction in the Mills & Boon mould have their own set of rules regarding novel length.



    - NaomiM


    <Added>

    crossed with Emma
  • Re: Chapter length and starting new novel
    by EmmaD at 12:32 on 16 January 2009
    And McEwans's On Chesil Beach is technically a novella at 48K - no debut.


    I heard McEwan say that himself recently. He came from short fiction writing, and his first was basically, structurally, short stories, and again, only around the 50,000 mark. But that was back in the days when, at least at the lit'ry end of things, that was still publishable.

    Emma
  • Re: Chapter length and starting new novel
    by melsheff at 12:40 on 16 January 2009
    Two days on this forum and I have already picked up some great bits of information and advice. Thanks all.
  • Re: Chapter length and starting new novel
    by melsheff at 12:49 on 16 January 2009
    I'm going to ask what is possibly a daft question with regards to this entire string: what is the difference between a scene and a chapter?

    I've read a lot of stuff where writers refer to scenes but am not entirely clear what they mean?

    Does everyone envisage thier novel like a movie or TV show and scenes refer to where the director might yell cut?

    For me - and here I may be showing myself up as behind the times again - when the director yells cut that's where I end my chapter.

    I guess scenes and chapters are down to the writer themselves, still some guidance would be fabulous.

    Sorry Beverley if I am hijacking your thread :-S
  • Re: Chapter length and starting new novel
    by EmmaD at 13:13 on 16 January 2009
    I think a lot of writers do conceive of a chapter as being a single scene, and certainly if you think of the basic nature of fiction as being character in action, then you could think of a scene as a unit of action: an event by the end of which things are different from how they were at the beginning.

    Of course, though, you have to link the scenes together, and those links can also be a chance to show the new state of affairs after that change, before you set about changing things yet again.

    For me, a chapter is a set of such scenes, and from more than one narrative, which belong together and add up to a bigger unit of the shape of the novel as a whole. Sometimes I'll work my way out of a scene and into the next one with continuous narrative, but other times I'll do the equivalent of 'Cut' at the end of a scene, with a double line space, or a *** to mark a really big jump in time or space.

    Emma

    <Added>

    I think what I'm really saying is that, yes, there's no reason each chapter shouldn't be a single scene, but that chapters can give you the chance to express a larger shape.

    A simple example might be that you have four scenes at different points in your MC's day at work: say arriving and nearly being run over by the MD in his Merc, two days later her boss is vile to her when she's feeling ill, three days after that the canteen gives her food poisoning, and on Sunday night they announce that the tube line she goes to work on will be closed for a year. All of which build up to her deciding to jack in her job and go off to be a waitress on a Greek beach. Do you put those four scenes in four separate chapters? Or do you put then all in one, mentally if not actually labelled, 'Giving up on work'...

    And bigger than a chapter is a Part - you could have England (life is rubbish, leading up to binning the job), Greece (where all sorts of things happen), then England again (where all the things she come back to have changed. Or not, and it )

    It sound like a really crap book, doesn't it. But you get the idea.

    Emma
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