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Old 05-15-2017, 03:51 AM   #1
gmw
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Lots of short chapters, yes or no?

My current project is told from the perspective of three different characters (well, four, but one sort of hands over to another). These perspectives interleave to reveal details over the same sequence of events (mostly).

Normally when I do this I simply use a context break (- - -) within the chapter, and choose my chapter breaks independently. I may still end up doing that anyway, but...

As it happens I have, while writing this, been assembling the pieces such that the each perspective has its own chapter heading (just the character name). This is convenient because it means you don't have to take special care to make certain the reader knows who they are with when you change perspectives (not usually a big deal, each character is sufficiently different that it is normally obvious, but it is still a consideration). It has occurred to me to wonder whether it might be acceptable to publish it like this - with lots of short chapters.

Several chapters would be very short, two or three pages, a handful at just one page. Other chapters would be of a more reasonable length (a dozen pages or more). But since it now appears this could turn out to be a 400 page book, it could add up to a very large number of chapters (perhaps 60 or even more). I currently expect the story to have at least 4 parts.

It's not a decision I need to make until I have a complete draft, and that will be a while yet. Also, later in the story, as my characters come together more, the separation may prove to be impracticable anyway. But the question remains:

Is it acceptable to produce a novel with a large number of short chapters? What are the downsides for readers?
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Old 05-15-2017, 08:48 AM   #2
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A VERY long time ago, I had to read Faulkner's As I Lay Dying for a uni course. I hated it, but that's beside the point. There are lots of pov changes in that book which were indicated by font, mostly italics, alternating with normal when the pov changed.

I prefer your idea, it saves the reader wondering for the first few sentences from which pov the passage is written. There are plenty of books with very short chapters. I seem to remember Anne Rice's Interview With The Vampire having chapters only a few pages long. Something about brief chapters gives a book momentum, maybe because the reader thinks "just one more chapter, it's only a few pages," and the night ticks on, till dawn brings the realisation that they've been up all night reading your book.

Do what you think is right, but I see nothing wrong with short chapters, on the contrary, they have some advantages.

Last edited by BookCat; 05-15-2017 at 08:53 AM.
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Old 05-15-2017, 09:40 AM   #3
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I like your idea. Done properly, it makes a book easier to read.
Done improperly well you won't have readers for long.
Good example:J D Robb or James Patterson.
Bad example: the author who's name I have long since forgotten. Though I will tell you about the book.
He had 3 main characters. After the disaster two wound up being street people several hundred miles from the ruling house while the third was enslaved in the ruling house. He keeps going back and forth between the 3 characters until you get about 3/4 through the book. Then you get the two street people fall or jump into a hole, or some other such thing and the third one is pregnant. Next sentence is 9 months later the baby is born and the street people are now arriving at the house.
It left me wanting way more information.
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Old 05-15-2017, 09:53 AM   #4
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L. E. Modesitt Jr does this all the time
His books tend to have over 100 < 200 chapters (and he uses Roman Numerals ). Some of those 'chapters' don't fill the screen.

What is important, is the story flow.
Meanwhile, back in the jungle...
Cheetah has just stolen Tube Monkeys Banana and was now running for his life.
<next chapter>
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Old 05-15-2017, 11:48 AM   #5
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I am surprised to see such a consistently positive reaction. There's still time, of course, for objections to come in.

It's been a long while since I read any James Patterson, I had forgotten his chapters were short (which suggests it didn't bother me at all). I haven't read L. E. Modesitt Jr.

The main thing that got me to thinking that it would be okay is that I have managed to create a fairly fast-paced opening to my story (for me, anyway), and it seemed to be working well in this short chapter form. I then hit the end of the opening sequence and had to span a 6 months gap (so, Cinisajoy, your example is quite apt) and found that short chapters seemed to help here too.

Cinisajoy, you said "Done improperly well you won't have readers for long." But that doesn't worry me all that much. I figure that will be true however I end up structuring the chapters. I guess going with lots of short chapters gives me yet another way to stuff up, but so far it doesn't feel like I am.

All I have to do is finish writing it. Still no guarantee this is what I will do, but it is nice to have it confirmed that it remains a viable option.

Thanks for your input, everyone.
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Old 05-15-2017, 11:56 AM   #6
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A lot of authors have had books with short chapters in them. Ray Bradbury's "The Martian Chronicles" is a book with many short chapters as an example. Another advantage short chapters can have is to help with a fast pace in the story if it is desired.
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Old 05-15-2017, 12:27 PM   #7
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I recommend looking at John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar for an example of this type of structure. Reading the table of contents is actually valuable as it illustrates the book's construction. Alao look at his The Sheep Look Up.

This type of construction worked very well in Brunner's books. Done right, having each PoV in its own chapter will provide the opportunity to "announce" the viewpoint change.
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Old 05-15-2017, 01:05 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gmw View Post
I am surprised to see such a consistently positive reaction. There's still time, of course, for objections to come in.
I'm with the consensus, chapter length in general is not really an issue, if it fits the work and as long as it's not confusing to the reader. Done well, people won't even notice the chapter lengths. Done poorly, it's just about all they'll notice.
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Old 05-15-2017, 01:32 PM   #9
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As long as there is a purpose to having them short (or very long) I don't really care either way. I don't even miss them when they aren't there at all (Pratchett.)

About the only issue I have with very long chapters is that "one more chapter" may mean an hour or more of reading. Which is fine unless you have to be up in the morning.
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Old 05-15-2017, 03:35 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gmw View Post
I am surprised to see such a consistently positive reaction. There's still time, of course, for objections to come in.

It's been a long while since I read any James Patterson, I had forgotten his chapters were short (which suggests it didn't bother me at all). I haven't read L. E. Modesitt Jr.

The main thing that got me to thinking that it would be okay is that I have managed to create a fairly fast-paced opening to my story (for me, anyway), and it seemed to be working well in this short chapter form. I then hit the end of the opening sequence and had to span a 6 months gap (so, Cinisajoy, your example is quite apt) and found that short chapters seemed to help here too.

Cinisajoy, you said "Done improperly well you won't have readers for long." But that doesn't worry me all that much. I figure that will be true however I end up structuring the chapters. I guess going with lots of short chapters gives me yet another way to stuff up, but so far it doesn't feel like I am.

All I have to do is finish writing it. Still no guarantee this is what I will do, but it is nice to have it confirmed that it remains a viable option.

Thanks for your input, everyone.
Just do this reader a favor: make sure the time skips fit all the characters. Not just one especially if the others are in danger.
Don't leave Nell tied to the train track. That only works in Dudley Do Right.
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Old 05-15-2017, 10:01 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Cinisajoy View Post
Just do this reader a favor: make sure the time skips fit all the characters. Not just one especially if the others are in danger.
Don't leave Nell tied to the train track. That only works in Dudley Do Right.
Usually when he's foiling the dasterdly deeds of Snidley Whiplash.
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Old 05-15-2017, 10:41 PM   #12
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I recommend looking at John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar for an example of this type of structure. Reading the table of contents is actually valuable as it illustrates the book's construction. Alao look at his The Sheep Look Up.[...]
Thanks. That does raise the question of how to handle the table of contents for such books. Unlike Brunner's work (and my previous novels), I don't (currently) expect to have actual chapter titles in this story, just the chapter number and character name.

I happen to have James Patterson's "When the Wind Blows" in paperback and can see that it does NOT list the chapters in the front matter (as I would expect), but on Amazon I can see his Kindle edition lists chapters at the front as:

One
Two
Three
...etc...

In my case the TOC would probably appear something like:

1. Carla
2. Matt
3. Ruth
4. Carla
5. Matt
...etc...

Is this what readers would prefer to see in ebooks, even though it will span several pages? (It seems a little redundant to me, since the ebook keeps my place anyway.)

Note: Metadata chapter selection would work as normal, I am asking here about whether the TOC should show in the front matter (which Kindle normally jumps over anyway, but not all EPUB readers).


Quote:
Originally Posted by Cinisajoy View Post
Just do this reader a favor: make sure the time skips fit all the characters. Not just one especially if the others are in danger.
Don't leave Nell tied to the train track. That only works in Dudley Do Right.
That's one of the things that seems to work neatly with the short chapter form. We get to "touch base" with everyone and see what they have been up to without feeling as if you're getting an info dump. It seems to give a sense of movement where little movement exists - or maybe I'm just getting better at it (I can always hope ).
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Old 05-15-2017, 11:38 PM   #13
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As long as there is a purpose to having them short (or very long) I don't really care either way. I don't even miss them when they aren't there at all (Pratchett.)

About the only issue I have with very long chapters is that "one more chapter" may mean an hour or more of reading. Which is fine unless you have to be up in the morning.
Ah, but the book you "can't put down" is likely the book that was well written as well.
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Old 05-16-2017, 12:14 AM   #14
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Thanks. That does raise the question of how to handle the table of contents for such books. Unlike Brunner's work (and my previous novels), I don't (currently) expect to have actual chapter titles in this story, just the chapter number and character name.

I happen to have James Patterson's "When the Wind Blows" in paperback and can see that it does NOT list the chapters in the front matter (as I would expect), but on Amazon I can see his Kindle edition lists chapters at the front as:

One
Two
Three
...etc...

In my case the TOC would probably appear something like:

1. Carla
2. Matt
3. Ruth
4. Carla
5. Matt
...etc...

Is this what readers would prefer to see in ebooks, even though it will span several pages? (It seems a little redundant to me, since the ebook keeps my place anyway.)

Note: Metadata chapter selection would work as normal, I am asking here about whether the TOC should show in the front matter (which Kindle normally jumps over anyway, but not all EPUB readers).

.
IMHO the number is the important part, the chapter title is just icing

I have recently read a couple of books with TOC's just like you show. No prob
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Old 05-16-2017, 09:30 PM   #15
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IMHO the number is the important part, the chapter title is just icing

I have recently read a couple of books with TOC's just like you show. No prob
Thanks.

I guess I just don't like the aesthetics of a TOC like this that might span several pages. A nice TOC with proper chapter titles going over one or two pages is neat and elegant, but a simple list of chapter numbers (with or without the names) just looks a bit silly to my eye. But it does seem that some readers like to have the TOC in the front matter.

It's tempting to try and list the TOC in multiple columns to reduce the number of pages, but I'm always concerned that getting "clever" might run afoul of certain ereaders or user configurations. Anyway, I will cross that bridge when I come to it, there are a lot of rivers to cross before then.
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