Chapters 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!
- 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.
- 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!)!
- 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.
- 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?