Long Chapters vs. Short Chapters

06/08/2018 Discussions, Reading, Writing 18

Long Chapters vs Short ChaptersChapters are an important part of a novel’s structure, as the way an author decides to split up their book can really affect our reading of it.

For example, some books have short, punchy chapters that keep us turning the page, and saying, ‘just one more chapter!’ Whereas others want to keep us immersed for as long as possible and use great sprawling chapters to do this.

Both approaches have their advantages and I think that really, it comes down to the individual book. I find that thrillers and action adventure books that are meant to be fast-paced benefit from shorter chapters, whilst epic fantasies with lots of world-building and complex battle scenes need much longer chapters.

I know I’ve seen this at work in my own writing: the chapters of my YA novel naturally seemed to fall at around 2,000 to 2,500 words, whilst those in my historical fiction were generally between 3,000 and 4,000. Different books call for different approaches, and personally I think the most important thing is having chapters that leave you on a note that makes you want to keep going.

Having said that, in this post I wanted to take a closer look at the pros and cons of having longer or shorter chapters, and I’d love to know other people’s preferences!

Long Chapters

Pros:

  • Allows for more immersion in the story without being interrupted as regularly by chapter breaks. It can make the book seem smoother and less choppy.
  • Allows for longer and more complex scenes such as battles.
  • If there’s a change in perspectives then you get to spend a reasonable amount of time with each character, so it feels like you’re jumping around less.
  • Gives you less opportunity to stop and put the book down, as most people like to stop reading at chapter breaks.

Cons:

  • Can find yourself becoming bored if a chapter keeps on going and going. It can really slow down the general pace of the book.
  • Means you’re less likely to say ‘just one more chapter’, as it’s a much bigger time commitment.
  • Gives you less opportunity to stop and put the book down. Yes, I did put this in both pros and cons, for one simple reason: giving you less opportunity to put the book down is great for the author who wants you to keep reading, but can be annoying for the reader, who perhaps has to get back from their lunch break (I’ve been there!)!

Short Chapters

Pros:

  • Makes the book feel much faster paced.
  • Makes the reader more likely to think ‘I’ll just read another chapter’, if they know it won’t take them long.
  • Getting through more chapters gives you the illusion of making more progress than you actually are.
  • Gives the reader lots of places they can stop, if they need (or want to) put the book down.

Cons

  • Short chapters mean shorter scenes that may have less depths to them.
  • Means larger events in the book are split up more, and can seem quite choppy (especially if there’s a lot of changing of perspectives etc.).
  • Gives the reader more opportunity to stop reading. Yes, I’ve again put this in both the pros and cons, because whilst having regular places to stop reading is great for readers, it isn’t so great for writers who want you to keep reading their book. Especially if the reader isn’t overly wowed by your book, giving them lots of opt out opportunities increases the chance they’ll put it down and not pick it back up.

Overall, I don’t think I have a preference. Whilst the pros of the short chapters seem to offer readers the most benefits, one of my favourite genres is fantasy, and that does have a tendency toward longer chapters.

And I love that! I like becoming totally engrossed in a book and a scene, without regularly being reminded that I’m actually reading a book that has been purposefully divided up by the author to guide my reading of it.

I think as long as the author has chosen the right length of chapters for that individual book (and that length is fairly consistent throughout!) then either end of the spectrum is fine!

So what do you think? Do you have a preference for long or short chapters? Or does it depend on the book for you?

18 Responses to “Long Chapters vs. Short Chapters”

  1. Mimi

    Hi Laura,

    I definitely prefer short chapters, because I like it when I wanna read “just one more chapter”, that doesn’t happen when I read a book with long chapters. Actually, when I start to read a new chapter, I always first check how long the chapter is. And then I decide if I go on reading or not.

    Have a nice week!

    Mimi

    • Laura

      I do that as well, where I’ll check how long a chapter is before I start it. And I’m less likely to start it right that minute if it’s too long.
      Have a great week too! 🙂

  2. Aj @ Read All The Things!

    Interesting discussion! I don’t have a preference because I stop in the middle of chapters all the time. I guess if I had to pick, I’d choose short. It makes the book feel fast-paced.

    • Laura

      I’ve been known to stop in the middle of chapters too, if I have no choice. But I do prefer to stop at a chapter break! 🙂

  3. Sherryl

    I like books with a variety of chapter lengths, just as I like a variety of scene lengths.

  4. Angela

    I prefer short chapters; it just seems to make the book go so much faster. But I can see your point about it making the book choppy or have less depth.

    • Laura

      I definitely agree that short chapters make the book go so much faster, and I think sometimes that’s worth some of the drawbacks.

  5. hwit

    Nice discussion!

    Though, I don’t have a firm position in it.
    The word count itself should never be the indication whether or not to split a chapter into two (or heaven forbids) multiple parts.

    A chapter should be defined by its content.
    Like a change of location, or a different moment in time (days/weeks/months later)
    Mostly I contain micro-plots within a chapter, so they tend to be rather lengthy.
    OTOH, some are extremely short (2 pages), when they just contain a letter from/to my MC.

    I rather prefer it that way, though well-known authors have a different view. I remember reading WoT, where the intro was over 200 pages…

    • Laura

      I think you’re right in that it’s more important for an author to decide on chapter breaks when they naturally fall, such as a change in time or location.
      And wow, a 200 page intro…that’s crazy! 🙂

  6. Holly

    You are definitely right, it so depends on the type/pace of the book! I don’t have an overall preference for so many of the points that you made, especially if a short chapter would make in depth scenes fall short of their potential. Then again, I usually read just before going to bed and I hate stopping mid-chapter, so I always end up staying awake far too late just to get to the end! There really is no easy option, is there.

    Great discussion! I love posts like this.

    • Laura

      I have that problem too sometimes where I’m reading before bed and end up having to stay up later to finish my chapter! I totally agree that there’s no easy option. There’s pros and cons to both approaches! 🙂

  7. Malka @ Paper Procrastinators

    I totally agree that it depends on the book. But for me, right now I’m super busy, and so the idea of a time commitment to a long chapter is super daunting and has been keeping my from picking up books because I feel I don’t have enough time to get into them.

    However, I just finished reading Radio Silence by Alice Oseman and that was the perfect book for me. The chapters were short and sweet, but the plot never felt stunted to me. Because of how fast I was finishing chapters, (and because of how great the book was) I manged to finish the book in around 2-3 days, which was super awesome.

    • Laura

      That happens for me as well, where when I’m busier, books with long chapters seem like a bigger commitment. If I’m busy I want to be able to just pick up my book in a spare moment and read a chapter in quarter of an hour!
      It does sound like Radio Silence had the perfect length of chapters to get through quickly. I’m glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

  8. Becky @ A Fool's Ingenuity

    Short chapters are my preference simply because I like finishing at the end of a chapter when reading (where possible anyway) and I find it easier to stay motivated reading short chapters because it’s easy to see progress (especially when you’re reading on Kindle rather than a physical book) but long chapters are good too. I think sometimes when I’m reading on a lazy day long chapters are good as they keep me reading for longer and then I get lost in the story. I think it’s all about how the book is written.

    • Laura

      I’m the same in that I prefer to finish reading at a chapter break if possible, and short chapters work best for that. I definitely feel the same though, in that on lazy days when I’m reading I like longer chapters that let me get lost in my book! 🙂

  9. kristina

    Ouh I love this post !!

    As I am a troubled reader, and I mostly read at night, I prefer short/medium chapters.
    long ones tend to slow me more, and in the end I’d need to stop in the middle of it as I get sleepy.. and I SO hate that!! I much prefer stop on chapters rounding but I don’t wanna fall asleep in my kobo either..

    Also the feeling of advancing in the book so much quicker !! I’d DNF a book with long chapters more.. it just feels so heavy to me..

    • Laura

      I read at night too, and I totally get the same thing where I start to fall asleep if the chapters are too long. I always try to make it to the end of the chapter, but sometimes I’m just too tired! 🙂

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