How Long Should a Chapter Be?

A common debate amongst authors is how long should a chapter be? James Patterson has chapters literally one page in length while J.R.R. Tolkien’s are dozens. Both are great authors. Both are infamous. But in the matter of chapter lengths, which one is right? The answer is they both are.

Let’s look at the definition of a chapter before going any further.

Chapter (Noun) – 1. A main division of a book, typically with a number or title. 2. A local branch of a society. 3. The governing body of a religious community, especially a cathedral or a knightly order. 4. A period of time or an episode in a person’s life, a nation’s history, etc.

We know it’s a main division of a book without even having to look at the definition, but look at the last example they give. A period of time or an episode in a person’s life, a nation’s history, etc. This is literally telling you, within the definition itself, that it does not matter how long the length of the chapter is as long as the scene within it is completed. You can still have a cliff-hanger at the end of the chapter, even if it is a page long.

Still not satisfied that the chapter can be any length? Let’s talk about lengthy chapters.

Do you remember seeing those fancy designs in between the text in some books? Those are called divider vectors. They are a visual ending of a scene for the reader. Vectors help to break up longer chapters so the reader is able to find a stopping point, because the reality is we always get interrupted by something while reading. It leaves an easier place to come back to.

Looking back at the definition of chapter again: A period of time or an episode in a person’s life. Your personal life is not cut into perfectly timed portions. An example — you only meant to stay at that Halloween party for two hours, but time whisked away and you found yourself there for five hours. The same goes with writing. One minute your character is behaving themselves and following the script. The next minute, they’re gallivanting across the countryside with a bunch of Dwarves and a wizard.

Do not restrict yourself or your characters on the fairytale ideals of perfect chapter lengths. Of course for young readers, you should make sure the chapters are easily comprehensible. But you still are not limited to a certain word count or a certain page-length for chapters. This is one of the steps that prevents many authors from simply writing.

So, sit down at the keyboard and just write.

Serving Real Life, But Make it Fantasy

Oscar Wilde once said, “If you want to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh or they’ll kill you.” I love this quote because it’s so true, and given its truth, this is why I’m a fantasy writer and not a comic.

There are a lot of people out there that think fantasy is for children, or it’s just a made up world with weird names and magic. But in reality, the fantasy genre has so much more potential than that. Fantasy can actually be real life mirrored back at us but from another realm.

A few years ago when I was 25, I somehow managed to get accepted into the Creative Writing Program at Trinity College Dublin where I completed a Master’s in creative writing. Besides getting one of my best friends out of the year-long program, I also got a wealth of knowledge from my professors, as each one of them was a creative expert in their chosen medium. One of them wrote extensively on the problems facing modern Irish society, yet many of his novels are set in the past.

Why was that?

He had a very straightforward answer when confronted. He told the workshop, “I’m not a journalist. I don’t have to bore you with facts. I’m a writer so my goal should be to entertain you, while helping you draw the parallels yourself.”

It was this bit of wisdom that encouraged me to write strictly fantasy. What he said that day about giving readers the tools to make the connections themselves really stuck with me. As writers we all want to think that our words make a difference to people, or that we’re somehow making a fresh impact on social issues by incorporating them into our work.

And while this is probably true, I have found that setting things either in the past or, better still, in a whole other realm is one of the best ways to drive home a particular point that you may want to make about society.

Especially in this heated political climate we live in, there is so much we can write about and draw inspiration for, for stories. But there are also plenty of opportunities to offend people and draw out the more comments should you choose to set a politically-charged story in modern days on top of making a point to give your direct opinion.

But you know where you can get away with all that? The past. Or better still, a whole new world. Think about big controversial topics like the environment, LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, religion, etc. All these can cause a stir if you write about them directly. However, rather than write about them directly, if you create another world where you allude to similar parallels, you can actually have a much more impacting effect.

So, yes, fantasy can be a wonderful outlet if you want to get people to think about the modern world we live in. Some very beloved stories do just that. For example, Tolkien was heavily influenced by WWI and it shows throughout his series of Lord of the Rings where war and conflict and change are at the core of the story. J.K. Rowling is another writer who has strong ties to modern problems in our society. The plight of the house elves and other problems facing the magical world all stem from her experiences working for Amnesty International. Suzanne Collins and her work for The Hunger Games was heavily influenced by the Iraq War, as well as her own father’s experiences in the military. These are probably some of the more famous examples, but you can see my point. These stories each carry powerful messages within them, but they wouldn’t be nearly as powerful if the writers didn’t provide their point a little distance.

So, that is why I am definitely a proponent of fantasy as a walk of reflecting life back to society. Just keep writing and when in doubt, make it fantasy.

Do I Need Chapter Titles?

When you first open a book, you more often than naught find a Chapter List shoved in between the pages before the first official page. The list of chapter names gives you an idea of what is going to happen within the book. Some people prefer this; some people believe it isn’t necessary since the summary on the rear cover should sell it. It honestly depends on what the author wants to do. Here are some of the pros and cons to help you decide for yourself.

Pros

  1. Your reader has an idea of what to expect for the book.
  2. Your book looks organized and professional on first glance.
  3. Some readers memorize the last place they’ve read by chapter number or chapter name. By listing it in the front of the book, the user can skim through the list to find the exact page number with ease.
  4. It’s normally expected. For book clubs, it makes it easier to keep track of where everyone’s progress should be after a certain amount of time. They will not thumb through a book to guesstimate this information for themselves.

Cons

  1. You thought naming the book itself was difficult. Now you have to name each and every chapter without giving away the entire story!
  2. Your reader knows too much about what happens in the book.
  3. You have yet another extra page between the cover and the first official page for the reader to begin the book. Being an extra page, it gets overlooked by some of the average readers who just want to begin reading.
  4. Extra pages also add extra costs to your book overall.

If these aren’t enough to convince you to sway either way, here is another brief article on the topic. Let me know your opinions in the comments!

Finding a Home for Your Story: Advice on Publication

Way back when I was about 22-years-old, I took a poetry class that changed my writing forever. I’m by no means a poet. I barely managed to write any decent poetry during the class. And since leaving the class, I’ve hardly ever written a poem – except for the occasional one that is born out of a purely emotional moment. But my lack of poetry skills isn’t what I took away from that class. It was actually quite the opposite. I walked away from that course as a newly-infused writer full of confidence and a sense of hope. As writers, we should always be filled with a sense of hope as we tell our stories. And we should always be hopeful that our work will find its intended audience.

That is probably the biggest take away that I received from my professor. She often spoke about “finding a home for your writing.” At first, we all thought she was talking about publication and finding the right magazine or journal to accept your work. That’s not remotely what she meant.

She told us a story about a series of poems she had written, which subsequently got rejected from every place she submitted to. Discouraged, she put them away in a file cabinet and forgot about them. Then, one day years later, she was going through the file cabinet and found them again. She was experiencing some personal difficulties at the time and her own words ended up being exactly what she needed to hear in that moment.

“Sometimes, you won’t always reach the broad audience base every writer dreams of,” she said bluntly. “Sometimes you’ll find that what you created will only reach a few people or even just one: yourself.”

The silence after she said those words covered the room in an impenetrable cloud of thought. I scanned the pensive faces of my fellow students as they digested what she’d just said.

Sensing many crushed dreams in that moment, my professor smiled as she added, “But you also have to keep in mind that your work serves a higher purpose. Everything you pour onto the page is intended for someone to read – to provide someone with whatever comfort they need in that moment. It will always find its intended audience so don’t be discouraged by your words. Use them. They will always be hope for someone who needs to read them.”

To this day, I still get chills when I think back to that moment in class. Every writer has a moment when they defined themselves as a writer – and that was mine, at the back of the classroom, quietly absorbing this poet’s wise words. Yes, we all want to be discovered as the next J.K. Rowling and have our stories printed for the masses, but those grandiose dreams are really us getting ahead of ourselves.

The journey to finding a home for our story doesn’t begin at the end of the road with a publishing contract and an advance; it begins with ourselves. We are our story’s first home. We are the ones who need to take comfort in our own words – after all, they live within us. Finding the hope within our writing will have a ripple effect. So far, I’ve had a couple short stories published and each one was the most honest version of the story in my mind that I managed to tell on paper.

See where I’m going with this? When you stop writing for the masses and write for yourself, you will be free to create the purest form of your story – and that version always manages to find its intended audience, whether large or small.

Interview with Author K.N. Nguyen

Dragon Soul Press had the pleasure of interviewing Author K.N. Nguyen!


Do you believe in writer’s block?

When I first started writing, I did. I first started writing my novel back in high school. I would work on it off and on throughout the years, always unsatisfied with where it was going, and shelving it for years at a time. I blamed writer’s block as the reason why I couldn’t complete the story. The plot and character development would always fizzle out, leaving me with a story that wouldn’t reveal itself to me. In May 2015, I picked up writing again and vowed to stick to it. It took two years, but I managed to finally complete my original idea that I started back in high school.

I think that I was able to complete my book for two reasons: 1) I was disciplined and actually made myself sit down and write every day, and 2) I started looking for mentors to help me stay on track. One of my mentors is my brother-in-law. We worked together to hold each other accountable and provide feedback. Another person who I would consider as a mentor, although I’m not sure if he would consider me a mentee, is another author. The second mentor is a published author who has always held himself open to me and provided advice to my questions. He’s helped me see that writer’s block is not what we think it is. In reality, it’s a mixture of different problems that have been dubbed “writer’s block”. Once I was able to see that it was all in my head, writing has become easier and less of a struggle.

Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

I do read my reviews. How I deal with them depends on what stage my piece is in. When I get feedback from beta readers, I take it with a grain of salt and look to see if there is a common theme to the comments that I receive. If I notice that there’s several people asking questions or noting confusion or distaste about a particular section, I look to see if I can polish it further. This has led to me strengthening my characters or scene. As an author, sometimes you are cursed with inside perspective and don’t realize that a passage is unclear or a character is flawed because in your head they are perfect. I’ve had to strip down my babies a number of times until they reached their final form.

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

I don’t try to hide secrets, but I do try and like to have a good surprise.

What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?

If I could function without sleep, I would use that extra time to write. I’ve recently experienced a big change in my life and I haven’t been able to write as much as I would like. Between this and my daytime job, I find myself missing my quiet moments to myself where I could go on an adventure in one of my stories.

What is your favorite childhood book?

Oh, this is a difficult one. I would probably say that The Chronicles of Narnia as a whole would be my favorite. That series heavily influenced my earlier writing style.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Finding a way to tie in my various deities to my series without overwhelming the reader. My first series is influenced by Mediterranean mythology and has a number of gods. Unlike the Romans and Greeks, I don’t have the luxury of the world knowing about my gods and so I have to be very careful in the way I incorporate them into my story.

How many hours a day do you write?

I used to write up to two hours or three thousand words a day, but things have fallen on the back-burner a bit. I hope to resume my usual routine shortly.

Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?

I don’t know if I would consider it a spiritual practice. I use it more as a therapeutic one. When I picked up writing back in 2015, I used it as a way to decompress from work. I had a horrible habit of taking my work home with me and letting the stress build up. Once I started writing, I found that I was less stressed because I was able to separate my working world and my personal one.

What does literary success look like to you?

This is a good question. To me, it’s finishing a project. It took me seventeen years to finish my debut novel, and I barely did that. As I worked on the book, I found that my universe began to expand and I could see other stories that were waiting to be told. I never thought I would get to that point, and so to have all of these other worlds open up to me is amazing.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

I have one book (the second in my Fallen series) which is scheduled for release next year. I also have a novella and a couple short stories that I need to finish up in the next year. I’m glad you didn’t ask about how many unfinished story ideas because that would be about ten.

Where can readers learn more about you?

I have two Facebook pages, one for my personal author page and one for my writer’s group page. I also have a page for DragonScript where I attempt to blog and provide updates about all of the writers that have been involved in our anthologies.