Chapter length, whats the ideal page count?

DAgent

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So I sat down and wrote a introduction to a story where a family moves house, I've not spent much time beyond a page and a half where we see them leaving the old place and how this affects their 13 year old daughter. I've spent a lot of time describing the new place and what each room is like and how old, empty, barren and alien it feels to the daughter compared to the home she knew which was fairly modern.

And then we end things in the attic which is a the home of a major plot point as there is something in there haunting the old place so it is important for plot setup and character development as well as a general sense of geography for the reader as a lot of the action is going to take place in the house.

Thing is, even allowing for proper formatting for spacing, font size etc, this first chapter is running into 20 pages before it comes to what feels like a natural end to me. But as a chapter it still feels a bit long as well. And yet all of it is important and while I could just chop this into two separate chapters I'm reluctant to do so.

So what does everyone make of setting up chapters, and what suggestions can anyone think of in this kind of situation?
 

Wayne Mack

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If the chapter feels long, I would heed that feeling. This may be a matter of pacing rather than chapter length. Perhaps some of the set up could be deferred to a later chapter? Perhaps you could devise a subplot allowing for a build of tension and release part way through? The latter might provide a good point for a chapter divide.
 

Rufus Coppertop

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I've spent a lot of time describing the new place and what each room is like and how old, empty, barren and alien it feels to the daughter compared to the home she knew which was fairly modern.
This might be your problem.

How much time? How much time do we need? Does the reader truly need a description of each and every room?

The first thing when she walks in should be enough to define the house. This is where you don't tell. You show!

Put us in her head and give us sensory impressions of shadows and cobwebs maybe. Echoes in the brooding, empty space. Cold air. Maybe the smell of something dead and the buzz of flies.

One big impression of barrenness and emptiness should be enough. Descriptions of each and every room? You'd lose me pretty quickly with that and I think you'd lose a lot of other readers as well.

And then we end things in the attic which is a the home of a major plot point as there is something in there haunting the old place so it is important for plot setup and character development as well as a general sense of geography for the reader as a lot of the action is going to take place in the house.
How much character development can really take place when a thirteen year old sees the new family house for the first time? She's not really going to be having realizations and epiphanies is she? Or loads of flashbacks?

And how much geography does the reader truly need? Or want?

Is it possible that your first chapter is a bit of an info dump?
 

tinkerdan

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My first novel had chapters that were 20 and 30 pages; I also had different POV in different chapters. The long chapters were not necessarily over verbose but the time line often overlapped the next chapter and different POV.

I published it that way and it worked alright; however, later I decided I could reformat those paragraphs for easier readability, by way of making the timeline more contiguous with less chapter beginnings like: 'two hours ago'; 'two days ago'; earlier.

However the first thing I would do is go through to see what could be done to tighten the writing.
Some times we use too many words to say something that can be so eloquently accomplished with just a few.
 

Susan Boulton

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So I've got the page setup as follows:

Double spacing
Times New Roman size 12
All margins, top, bottom and sides set to 3cm.
That's more or less standard for submission of manuscripts, it might need tweaking to a publisher's requirements, but I personally find it is best to write in this type of page set up. It is best to totally forget number of pages this might equate to in a published book, or ebook. That is something for your publisher, or if you are self publishing when you convert it for uploading.
 

paranoid marvin

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This might be your problem.

How much time? How much time do we need? Does the reader truly need a description of each and every room?

The first thing when she walks in should be enough to define the house. This is where you don't tell. You show!

Put us in her head and give us sensory impressions of shadows and cobwebs maybe. Echoes in the brooding, empty space. Cold air. Maybe the smell of something dead and the buzz of flies.

One big impression of barrenness and emptiness should be enough. Descriptions of each and every room? You'd lose me pretty quickly with that and I think you'd lose a lot of other readers as well.


How much character development can really take place when a thirteen year old sees the new family house for the first time? She's not really going to be having realizations and epiphanies is she? Or loads of flashbacks?

And how much geography does the reader truly need? Or want?

Is it possible that your first chapter is a bit of an info dump?


I agree. The reader doesn't need a lowdown on every room. What are her initial impressions when she enters the house? What does she smell, what does she hear and how does her new home feel; is it welcoming?

Does she get to choose her own room? If so what helps her decide; is it the view from her window or the size of the room?
 

DLCroix

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I am a designer, so I work directly in pocket size, more or less 5x8 ". That allows me to have a very close idea of the final product, widow control, page breaks, even correlation effects and although I admit that the latter is already spinning too fine is better, for example, that a page ends with a question on an even page if the answer in the dialogue continues on the right or odd page, that is, if you do not have to turn the page to know that answer, the union of meaning is not broken, and there are even others who say the opposite, which favors the page flipper but in this case I prefer to extend a paragraph so that it continues on the other page.
Now, as for the question itself, a long time ago I analyzed a large number of books and on average in the first place I got about ten to twelve pages per chapter and about 3 K. That in reading time equals about five minutes but if you think about it in terms of the time-reader market, it is also what a trip on the subway takes, a trip to the bathroom, that is, things that can be done on the way. The other measure that comes in second is about twenty pages and 5k.
But all this is relative, there are authors who use cliffhangers that one immediately intuits that it is not the writer, but editorial intervention; I liked Gibson more at the time of Mona Lisa Overdrive, Neuromancer, his current books has chapters so short that they suggest that they could be targeting a YA audience, but they also give the feeling of literary poverty, like something is missing, similar to a whiskey unpowered, with a lot of water. Because it is not about writing little, for that the best example is Burroughs and his legendary Nova express, you know, image falling, word falling, etc. That's rum and whiskey, unforgettable, a literature class in case you want examples of copy / paste, repetition of themes, counterpoints, ellipsis, fabulation. :ninja:
 

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