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This is not a question asking if I should add more or less to my chapters in terms of descriptions and so on to make them longer or shorter. It's more about grouping an already written story.

I'm trying to choose between having a larger amount of short chapters or a smaller amount of long chapters. I want to know which option works better for fiction writers, why, and how it affects potential readers when deciding whether or not to start the book and finish it.

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    Have you considered no chapters at all? Terry Pratchett was of the belief that chapters shouldn't be necessary in books for adults (and that not having chapters made people read for longer!) – GordonM May 18 '17 at 11:08
  • Feel free to vary the chapter length, depending on immediacy. In "The House on the Borderland" by William Hope Hodgson, each chapter (other than introduction and conclusion) is supposed to be a diary entry. The entries vary in length, from about one page to ten pages. That's natural for a diary. – user23046 May 19 '17 at 0:02
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Short chapters are less intimidating to young readers and provide good stopping points, which allow your spellbound readers to put the book down for the night and get some sleep.

Longer chapters visually promise a more complex, more immersive read, but also run the risk of dragging down the story pace to the point that the reader just gives up for good.

Both have their place. It just depends on what kind of story you have written and who you hope will read it.

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This is really all about cadence. You break up a text, at various levels, as an expression of its cadence. A slower cadence tends to express itself in longer sentences, longer paragraphs, longer chapters. A faster cadence tends to express itself in shorter sentences, shorter paragraphs, shorter chapters. (I say "tends" because I don't think these are iron rules by any means.)

Different styles and different genres tend towards different cadences. (That word "tend" again.) Thrillers and crime stories tend towards fast cadence, epic adventures and literary works tend toward slower cadences. There is no inherently right or wrong cadence, just the cadence that is right for the work.

The cadence of a work can also change over the course of the story. Sometimes the cadence will pick up towards the climax, for instance. Other works proceed at an even cadence.

Cadence is not the same thing as the pace of the action, it has more to do with the feel of the work. No Country for Old Men springs to mind as a work with a fast pace but a slow cadence.

Since your work exists already, its has a cadence. You simply need to fit your chapter breaks to the cadence of the existing piece.

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    you've accredited slower cadence for both longer and shorter sentences. That is probably a typo, but if not then please clarify. – Henry Taylor Apr 21 '17 at 17:25
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There is a third option, if it is too hard to decide between long and short. You could have long chapters, with breaks within the chapters. This is usually accomplished by having a larger space between two paragraphs and having a symbol (like a flower, sword, or whatever fits the story) separating the paragraphs. This gives a good point for the reader to take a break, if needed, without making the chapter feel too short.

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Both Henry and Mark are correct. To their responses, I add:

Have a look at The House on the Borderland, by William Hope Hodgson. It is now in public domain, so versions are available online. Depending on action and pacing, the length of chapters is very variable.

The main part of the book is supposed to be a diary, disovered amid ruins. The first chapter is told by someone who found the diary; it is very detailed and long. In the main part, being the diary itself, the shortest chapter is "Pepper," which is at most two pages long.

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There are too many of these questions. Chapter length is governed by four elements: scenes, transitions, location switches, time breaks. I have a novel where the shortest chapter is 400 words - a character is falling asleep. Longest chapter is 11,000 words. Every character is in the same location. There is no opportunity to end the scene or switch to a parallel plot. All the characters are being held hostage. There is no opportunity to switch to another 'camera'.

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