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Monday, August 09 2010

As I write my book, I'm faced with the usual dilemmas. The main one, of course, is plot and where the heck this story is going. Then there are subplots to worry about, characters to create, flesh out and name, and sentences to construct in creative and entertaining ways.

But currently, my biggest issue is chapter breaks, a seemingly trivial and easy aspect of writing. Looking over my progress this week, I've got a good chunk of writing, about thirty pages, with nary a chapter break. Can't have that. Readers will revolt. But where to break up the chunk? How long is too long for a chapter in a cozy mystery? When I'm reading a book, I have a habit of flipping forward to see where a chapter ends. If it's longer than about twenty pages, I get cranky. What is the writer trying to do? Wear me out? What if I want to stop sooner? I'll then flip through those twenty pages to see if the writer at least threw in a section break, anything to mark a clear stopping point so I'll know where to pick the story up again with little effort.

But I've also read thrillers that have ridiculously short chapters, some in the three to four page range. At first glance, this seems ideal. I can stop whenever my eyelids begin to droop. No worries about page after page before the next break. But this is a trick. The writer is lulling me into a sense of control, when in fact, the opposite is true. The writer is the one running the show. Every time I consider stopping, I think, "Gee, this next chapter is only five pages. Might as well read it." Then I repeat that phrase for the next chapter and the next, until I've read another hundred pages without realizing it.

Of course, I might be the only reader who even worries about chapter breaks. Perhaps some people simply stop at the end of a paragraph, stick the bookmark in the crease, and call it a day. Still others might start a book and read it straight through without stopping.

For me, as a reader, the ideal length for a chapter seems to be anywhere between eight to twelve pages. That's long enough that I can stop reading with satisfaction and a sense of completion, but not so long that I feel trapped in a never-ending tale and find myself saying, "Geez, will this chapter ever end?"

So I'll be keeping my chapters to around ten pages. And just in case others like shorter chapters, I'll throw in a section break here and there to help the reader out.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 01:18 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email

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