2

My chapters are usually 10 or so pages long, but I've been reading this one book with chapters as small as 2 pages.

Does this affect the story progression at all?

  • Books often have larger chapters which consist of smaller sections. In my experience, a small-chapter book is actually a book that has no formal chapters, but a lot of smaller sections. An author can use smaller fragments for faster progression, but given certain style of writing, this seem to have no effect. – Alexander Oct 16 '17 at 16:58
  • Oh, that makes sense. – Aspen the Artist and Author Oct 16 '17 at 17:00
  • I don't know if this directly relates to your question, but let me look at the issue from personal experience. Suppose, you have concern that your writing is slow-paced, you write too much descriptions, dialogues, reflection, stream of conciseness, develop irrelevant side plots that the book is becoming too boring and long. So, the question is - if you force yourself to write smaller chapters, would that help? I, unfortunately, can not answer this, because I could not so far successfully change my style. – Alexander Oct 16 '17 at 17:08
  • 1
    No. have a one-paragraph chapter if it works. One caveat, though, overly-long chapters should be avoided, especially toward the beginning.. – elrobis Oct 16 '17 at 18:51
  • 1
    If you must introduce everything at once, and you can not do so quickly, in a short chapter, then you will need to incorporate tension into that first long chapter. The key to tension is creating unanswered questions for the reader. Make him ask himself things like: "Why did she say it that way?" "What's between these two?" "What is he talking about?" "Why are they afraid/sad/excited/despairing?". Keep that up throughout the chapter. Always have at least one unanswered question at any point in the chapter. Just be sure you answer them soon, in either chapter one or two. – Thomas Reinstate Monica Myron Oct 17 '17 at 15:36
3

Do short chapters affect story progression?

Perception is key

Short Version: There's two kinds of story progression: how fast the plot moves forward (meaning the time it takes for one action to lead to another), and how fast it is perceived by the reader to do so. The length of the chapter can indicate how fast the plot is moving forward, but it doesn't actually dictate it. It can, however, affect a reader's perception of that speed.

Long Version: Chapters tend to end at one of two places. They either end where the current scene is resolved (a 'good stopping point'), or where the current scene demands an answer, forcing the reader to continue (a cliffhanger). How fast these points follow each other is determined by how fast the story progresses. Chapter length is merely an indicator of this, and does not actually influence it.

What chapter length can influence is how the reader perceives the pace of the story. Short chapters tend to yield a faster pace (in the reader's mind). My theory here is that this is because the reader can easily see the chapter is short, and knows it won't take long to read it. He subconsciously speeds up his reading, and the story seems to progress faster.

Long chapters, on the other hand, subconsciously tell the reader that they will take a long time to read. The reader expects this, and his mind slows down the rate at which he reads. Story progression seems to slow down.

How does this help you?

Knowing how to dictate the pace at which your story is read can be a great tool. A fast pace is good for action, while a slow one is good for more thought-provoking material. A good trick is to know the pace of your main character's mind, and reflect that with the chapter length. Are they tense, in a rush, or giddy with happiness? Short chapters will get the reader in the right frame of mind. Are they wrestling with an inner problem, saying goodbye to a loved one, or simply contemplating the scenery? Longer chapters will get the reader where you want him.

This of course begs the question of how to dictate chapter length. As @Alexander already pointed out in his comment on your OP, books usually consist of chapters with several scenes; that is, several packets of 'action and reaction'. The trick is to identify those packets, and break them up accordingly.

Figure out if you want a cliffhanger or a 'good stopping place'. Every action and reaction has an outcome. Withholding that outcome from the reader creates a cliffhanger. Supplying it creates satisfaction, and a good stopping place. Cliffhangers tend to generate a faster rate of reading, and also keep the reader reading longer than he otherwise would. Stopping places tend to slow things down and give the reader ample opportunity to stop and think about what he's read. Figure out which one you want. You can mix and match to your heart's desire.

After that, all you need to do is simply stop the chapter either after every outcome, or just before (depending on if you want a cliffhanger or not). If you're aiming for longer chapters, simply don't stop. Stop only when the outcome of a larger arc has been supplied.

I would recommend you look at Harry Potter. A lot of the chapters are a great case study, especially in the second book. Every chapter deals with a clue. You can usually look at the title to figure out what the clue is. The chapters are built on a series of actions and reactions, but at the end of the chapter, the clue is deciphered, supplying the outcome to the overall arc for the chapter.

If you want a good example of short chapters, look at the Inheritance Cycle. Writing competence aside, Paolini does have a short chapter every now and then, demonstrating how to stop with only one sequence of action and reaction. Look for chapters 2-3 pages long.

If you have any questions, be sure to let me know. Best of luck in your endeavors!

1

I don't think this negatively affects story progression. It can even be a form of emphasis, that punches the reader.

Say Karen and Lyle have been married for ten years, with two children. Karen has had her tubes tied, they decided one boy and one girl was enough. Here's my scene: Karen gets a call on her phone, it is Mark, Lyle's co-worker. But it is Lyle on the phone; he can't find his phone, he thinks he left it on the dresser recharging, could she check? She sees no phone. Did he try calling it? Yes, straight to mail. Its probably out of battery. After the call, Karen thinks to check his other suits. She doesn't recall what he wore yesterday, something light. As she is checking, she finds in his gray striped jacket a newly opened packet of condoms.

Hm. That's very interesting, in an enraging sort of way. She and Lyle did not use condoms. Ever!

My point is: How many pages should I stretch this out? Two may be enough. And a chapter break gives the reader time to believe Karen is stewing for hours deciding what to do next, whether to confront or follow Lyle, etc, some of which would be setup in those pages. Then if the chapter changes to some other character, our dear reader cannot wait to see what happens when Lyle next meets Karen.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.