Grammar

Chapters: How Long is Too Long?

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I’ve had a number of people ask me lately how long their chapters should be. My answer has been: “As long as they need to be.”

Now, it would be nice if I could give folks the “industry-standard” answer: “Chapters should be no less than xx and no longer than xxx,” but the truth is there isn’t a real standard in the industry. And frankly, I think that’s a good thing. I’ve never been one to count words on chapters, but then, I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer. The measuring stick, so to speak, that I use–as a writer, an editor, and an agent–to determine if chapter length is what it needs to be is whether the chapter flows well. If I either find my eyes glazing over halfway through or if I reach the end so fast I’m left wondering what in the bald-headed dog snot just happened, there’s a problem. (Thanks, by the way, to my dad for that “bald-headed” phrase. <grin>).

Generally speaking, many writings tend to aim for 2500 to 3000 words per chapter. But there are so many variables. Such as:

Genre:

Fiction–suspense fiction is all about keeping the reader on the edge of their seats, which lends itself to short chapters. Whereas chapters in literary fiction sometimes are longer.

Nonfiction—likewise, popular self-help fiction seems to favor shorter chapters whereas memoirs, not unlike literary fiction, take a bit more time (and page length) to say what they have to say.

So the kind of book you’re writing will have an impact on chapter length.

Your Voice
Some authors have a wonderful, lyrical tone that just kind of ambles on out, like sitting on the porch in the South, sipping tea and leaning your head back to savor a summer day. Others deliver their words in an almost machine-gun patter, hitting readers with one truth after another such that readers race through the pages. As you consider the length of your chapters, be sure you honor your author voice. Your readers can tell when you’re cutting yourself short, or when you’re trying to draw something out for word count. It’s letting your voice come through that matters most, not word count.

Reader Expectations
That being said (the bit above about voice), do keep in mind that readers have a certain expectation of the books they read. If you’ve developed a certain pattern and pace in your books, don’t change that up unless you have a solid reason for doing so. Readers love to “feel at home” with their favorite authors, and though they may not be cognizant of things like chapter length, they will notice the difference in how a book
feels when they read it.   

Publisher Production Costs
Some books are written to a specific format, and as such word length for chapters matters a great deal. Holding to the set format makes the costs predictable and standard. Make sure you know what your publisher is looking for, or you—and your editor—could end up with some very unhappy surprises when you turn your books in.

So if you’ve been wondering about chapter length, my best counsel is to:

  1. Check with your publisher to be sure there isn’t a set format for chapter length
  2. Take the kind of book you’re writing into account. Check out similar books that are on the market to see if there seems to be any consensus on chapter length.
  3. Just write the book. End the chapters where they need to end, but as you go, use readers to tell you if it comes across the way you want it to. 

Happy Writing!

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The Writer as Editor

As we saw in my post last week, there are any number of ways a manuscript can go wrong. Hard enough to write a novel, but then to have to dig in and edit it yourself? That’s especially tough. So here are some tips to help you be the best editor you can be.

Don’t let the editor out to play too soon

Writing and editing are very different functions for the brain. Writing is a creative process; editing, logical and detail-oriented. When writing, we need to let ourselves forget the rules and coax the story to life. When editing, we must embrace the rules as a solid foundation to help us strengthen what’s landed on the page. I’ve seen so many writers almost drive themselves crazy by trying to edit as they write, which ends up making them second-guess everything. And freezes the story in its tracks.

Puts me in mind of one of my favorite pens (pictured below). It’s a two-tip pen—black ink at one end, red at the other. The body of the pen is made of two colors of wood, one with black tones, one with red. One end for writing, the other for editing. The pen works great—so long as I only use one end at a time! Trying to edit and write at the same time would be like grabbing the pen at both ends: totally ineffectual.

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Editing 101 – Your Turn

I’ve had a number of writers ask me if I can show an edited page from a manuscript, so they can learn from it. So that seems a fun way to start out the New Year. But what I want to do is let YOU take a turn as an editor first. So here, for your editing pleasure, is something I wrote just for this occasion. Print this out, put on your editing hat, and go for it. I’ll post the edited text next week, so we can compare and discuss!

__________

Sammy said it was a long time since he seen Rufus. Said the ol’ dawg shoulda been home long time ago. Said somethin’ musta happent to the mutt and said it was my fault fer bein’ sew stupid and not tyin’ him up wh’n I shoulda. “Gilly, you no good” he says to me. Like he’s so good and special.

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What’s On Your Desk? (Part Two)

Last week I told you about my writing books, those valued, printed friends who’ve gone through this writing/editing/agenting journey with me. This week, I want to introduce you to some buddies that are too often ignored. Or avoided. Or cursed.

Yes, my friends, I’m talking about grammar books.

I, too, am less than delighted with grammar. However, I’m delighted by the following books that are a wonderful—and fun!—resource for those of us who work with words. So, without further ado…

Of course, The Elements of Style by Strunk and White is front and center. I have the little book with a white and red cover, but in ’05 I received a wonderful gift from writer/editor Erin Healy: The Elements of Style, Illustrated. It’s a beautiful clothbound version of EoS, with lovely, four-color illustrations that bring the examples to life. I love it!

Then there are the style and grammar books by

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Spell Checking

Shortly after I became a book editor, I was working on a nonfiction manuscript that focused on Mormonism. When I finished editing, I ran the spell check. Imagine my reaction when the dear spell check wanted to replace every Mormon with moron and Mormonism with Moronism!

Since those long ago days, spell check has invaded countless emails, files, and text messages. As much as we appreciate it catching our errors, we curse it for “fixing” words that didn’t need fixing. So when I came across recently, I knew I wanted to share it with you.

So here, for your reading pleasure:

ODE TO MY SPELL CHECKER

Eye halve a spelling chequer

It cam with my pea sea

It plainly marques four my revue

Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a key and type a word

And weight four it two say

Weather eye am wrong oar write

It shows me strait a weigh.

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News You Can Use – May 29, 2012

Self-Publishing: Under 10% Earn a Living – An article out of Australia makes a bold claim. I would claim, however, that only 10% of traditionally published writers earn a living too. Of course that depends on your definition of “a living.”

100 Best First Lines from Novels – In honor of the last two weeks where we talked about “first lines” I found this article from the American Book Review that chooses the top 100.

Stephen King’s 20 Tips for Becoming a Frighteningly Good Writer – Jon Morrow extracts the best parts from King’s book on writing and then applies it to the blogger.

Six Ways Copyeditors Make Your Book Better – Linda Jay Geldens makes an excellent point. Never skip this step before putting your work out in the public.

The No-Tears Guide to Podcasting – There are many who say podcasting is an excellent way to extend your platform and engage your readers.

Two Excellent Articles about Commas: Their use and misuse – written by Ben Yagoda
Fanfare for the Comma Man
The Most Comma Mistakes

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Fun Fridays – May 8, 2012 -The Chaos of English Pronunciation

Fun Friday – May 18, 2012

Quoted in its entirety from The Better Spelling Society (read their article the history of this piece). My favorite is the last stanza that reads “which rhymes with enough? Though, through, bough, cough, hough, sough, tough??”

The Chaos – by Gerard Nolst Trenité

This version is essentially the author’s own final text, as also published by New River Project in 1993. A few minor corrections have however been made, and occasional words from earlier editions have been preferred. Following earlier practice, words with clashing spellings or pronunciations are here printed in italics.

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse

Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.

I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear;

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News You Can Use – Feb. 21, 2012

My Favorite Article of the Week – Please read it and make your agent happy.

What Publishers Can Learn From the Airlines– Andy Le Peau of IVP renders a very clever take on what publishing could look like if they would only emulate other industry practices.

Amanda Knox Signs a $4 Million Book Deal – Sigh…Think about it for a second. In 2005 a relatively unknown senator from Illinois got $1.9 Million for two non-fiction books, his name was Barak Obama. And right before he took office as president he signed a $500,000 advance deal for a children’s book. Former President Bill Clinton got $8 Million up front for his memoir. And former President George Bush received $7 Million for his Decision Points memoir.

Do You Ignore Issue of Copyright? – This article shows the complexity of copyright when going from one country to the next. For example, Hemingway is public domain in Canada, but not in France. Do you even care?

Men are from Google+, Women are from Pinterest – clever article

Adult vs. YA Dystopian Novels – Interesting look at the phenomenon of dystopian novels in today’s YA market. And if you don’t know what that means, click the link.

25 Subordinating Conjunctions – I was afraid to read the article too. Clever help for flat writing.

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