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.

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!

How to Critique & Edit Your Own Work

First off, understand that the first draft of what you are going to write is most definitely going to cause you to cringe and want to burn it on sight. I would not recommend this since editing it is fairly easy, and there’s no reason to give your neighbors a heart attack with squealing smoke alarms. You will have times when your writing flows as easily as a beautiful river. You will face times when you have to force the writing out. There will be filler words such as “that,” grammar issues, lack of descriptive imagery, characters so shallow you want to cry.

The first step is to just breathe. Once your first draft is completely finished, set it aside. Lock it away if you have to. Don’t look at it for at least a couple of weeks. Give yourself time to catch up on reading, watching movies, and schedule that spa day. You can work on another project, even if it’s the sequel to the first draft you just finished. Whatever you do, do not look at the first draft until two weeks has passed. That’s fourteen days for those that are stubborn. You know who you are.

The second step is to read your draft as though you were someone else. It should be fairly easy now that you’ve set it aside for the past two weeks. Be brutal. Reading from another perspective gives you the opportunity to find the plot holes more easily, the shallow characters who were never mentioned again, and more. Take your time reading it over.

The third step is the grammar. Make sure there are no run-on sentences (average long sentence length should not exceed 25 words), your homonyms(to/too/two) are correctly used, etc. Grammar is essential to making your story readable and enjoyable to readers.

The fourth step is checking the tense throughout the story. This means the past tense, present tense, future tense. If your wording is off, it will be difficult to read and will give readers different ideas than what you’re portraying.

The fifth step is to read the entire story out loud. This can be tiresome, but if you can’t get through the entire draft in a breeze, neither can your readers. If the sentences feel awkward to say, this means they are awkward to read. Definitely go through this step repeatedly until all of those errors are fixed. Normally it’s something that can be resolved by switching a couple of words around or deleting a word.

The sixth step is to read the entire draft with all of the steps above in mind. Fix any lingering issues you see. Make sure to use the spell checker in whatever program you are using to write in.

Hopefully by this time, you have found and edited everything. A word of warning: just when you think everything is perfect and you hit publish, you’ll find errors you overlooked. Don’t panic, don’t pull the book off the shelves in horror. Calmly document all of the errors, update the document, and upload the updated version. There may be a limitless amount of times you have to do this, so just accept your fate.

In conclusion, that is at least five times you need to read your first draft in order to edit it. If you just exclaimed negatively over that fact, this line of work is not for you. If you don’t want to take the time to read over your own work several times, why would anyone else want to take the time to read it?

Cardinal Sins in Writing

Amateur writers make a lot of mistakes. After all, writing is a learning process. You should always practice, practice, practice, and get your work edited, but what about during the process itself? What is it you should avoid as much as possible before you send your work out to the beta-readers? There are a lot of cardinal sins in writing. I will go over several here. Chances are if you have one or more of these in your story, your lit agent, or publisher will give your work a pass. In no particular order of importance, they are:

1. Tell, do not show. You tell me someone is angry, happy, or sad. You do not describe the body language to allow myself to make that judgment for myself. You use adverbs out the wazoo. A good rule of thumb, avoid using emotive words altogether. Also, avoid using descriptive dialogue tags when said and ask should suffice.

2. You use Passive Voice. The plane was exploded by a bomb instead of: A bomb exploded the plane. Was, were, had, to be, being, has been, have been, etc. All are passive verbs. Now you don’t have to try to eliminate all your passive verbs, but your action verbs should considerably outnumber your passive verbs.

3. Your Main Character is a Mary Sue / Gary Stu. Your character can do everything. They are smart, beautiful, strong, fast, sexually attractive (I’m talking h-a-w-t), can fight with just any kind of weapon, cast spells, the child of a god, (sigh!) the list goes on. Or maybe, they are not all those things, but you’ve constructed the story so that every challenge your main character faced, they just breezed right through.

4. Your story has no tension. Are the victories and arguments your character faced too easy? No setbacks? No twists? Everyone just goes along with the MC just because they are awesome? Yeah, don’t do this.

5. You pacing is disjointed. You put the climax in the middle of the book and the denouement is the wrap up from there on out. When gearing up for that epic battle, it completely fizzles or worse yet, it’s extraordinarily brief or doesn’t happen at all. Remember, your readers are conditioned to enjoy a completed story of beginning, middle, climax, denouement.

6. You switch POVs. Either choose First or Third Person. There are others, but uncommon and not really used effectively. If you choose First Person, then your story is told through your Main Character(s)’ eyes and by what they know. We don’t have the luxury to get into someone else’s head unless your MC can read minds. Third Person is quite common (and there are different subtypes), but if you switch POV’s from one character to the next, give us a scene break or chapter break so we know we’re hopping around. Second Person or other styles are very rare – use with caution.

7. You info-dump. If you write about the elves’ special coming-of-age ritual, we don’t need to know every single little detail about it unless necessary and especially if you tell it as if I’m sitting in History class. If we don’t need to know it for the story, odds are you didn’t need to tell us. Cut it out.

8. You did not research your story at all (or enough). You have a battle in the early 1800’s and your MC mans a Gatling gun, mowing down enemies. Except that the gun wasn’t invented and put into use until the American Civil War. Make sure you have done all the necessary research related to your story. If you set your story in an era where there is a lot of contention or debate among prominent historians/scientists, your safer bet is to go with the more popular accepted theory.

9. You did not write for the market. You love Twilight. You decide to write a love triangle with a sparkle vampire, a buffed werewolf, and a human girl who needs a boyfriend. Except no publisher wants a Twilight clone. They are done with it. They are also done with Harry Potter, Hunger Games, 50 Shades of Grey,and Game of Thrones. They are sick of the Chosen One trope. All of this is clearly written in their submission guidelines, but you wrote your Twilight story anyways. Was your story good? We won’t know unless you self-publish because that’s your only course of action from here.

In short, finish your story, and get it done. But after that, go through and look for all these areas of perceived weakness. Clean it up. Then gather your beta-readers to let them look for any weaknesses you missed.

Interview with Author Sofi Laporte

Dragon Soul Press sat down with Author Sofi Laporte for an interview.


What gives you inspiration for your books?

I write across genres, but mainly YA, paranormal and romance. My stories usually have “a sprinkle of magic”, a touch of magic realism. I basically collect story ideas from every day-life, from the mundane, and sprinkle some magic on top.

What inspired Loreley, my story in Sea of Secrets Anthology, was a childhood memory. Specifically: the German song Loreley that my grandmother used to sing to me on her mandoline. When I thought about what to write for this anthology, the melody suddenly came to me. I actually heard the music. I knew then that I had to write about the Loreley legend.

Chestnut Woman was inspired by a real person, a neighbor in Vienna. She had a gossipy nature, a strident voice and knew everything about everyone. It was unbelievable what she knew. What if, it occurred to me, underneath this garish façade she is someone entirely different? Maybe someone magical? This is how Mrs Schmidt was born.

To sum up, what inspires me: music, real people, places I’ve lived and visited, childhood memories. Somehow it all magically comes together to form a story. This is why I love writing!

Of all the characters you have created, which is your favorite and why?

Arthrapax. The precocious cat who is in reality a dragon. And not just any dragon: Morgana’s side-kick, her pet dragon! He’s modeled on my own cat, who has the same sassiness.  Arthrapax is a side character in Chestnut Woman in Sea of Secrets Anthology, but he really deserves his own book.

What is the biggest surprise that you experienced after becoming a writer?

All this marketing! I never thought I’d have to take a crash course on marketing just because I wanted to write stories and share them with other people.

Any website or resources that have been helpful to you as a writer?

So many! 10 minute novelist Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/10MinNovelists/, 365 writing challenge group which is a sub-group of 10 minute novelists and which taught me to put butt-in-chair and write every day: https://www.facebook.com/groups/365writingchallenge/; Helping writers become authors blog and books by K.M Weiland: https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com. Special shout-out to Inkslinger’s Den, a Facebook group by Brenda Littau with the best how-to videos on everything a writer needs to know:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/INKSLINGERSDEN/. My favorite books: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I also read a ton in my genres; mainly YA, romance and paranormal.

Have you thought about joining with another author to write a book?

Yes, it sounds like fun! I might like to try that one day. Some of my favorite books were co-authored, like Holly Black and Cassandra Clare’s Magisterium series; or the Beautiful Creatures series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

But first I would like to focus on my own books.

What do you think about the ebook revolution?

I’m pro-technology so I support that. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy this: click and voilà, there’s your book! Instant gratification! In my “other” life I work as a librarian and a teacher, so I speak from experience that e-readers help dyslexic children with their reading comprehension. Also reluctant readers can be enticed to reading via e-reading programs. There are some truly great reading programs and Apps out there. Additionally, ebooks are a blessing for elderly people, because they can enlarge the font with a click. I know some people prefer ebooks over paperbacks because the printed font is simply too small. Yet we need not fear that traditional books will become extinct because of ebooks. A few days ago there was an article in our local newspaper saying that the printed book has “outlived its own death” – referring to the ebook revolution and the fear that, as a consequence, paperbacks will become obsolete. They won’t. Independent bookshops are on the rise again. As for myself, when it comes down to choosing between reading an e-book or paperback: it really depends on how impatient I am to read the book. If I have to wait a long time for the book to arrive, I will just read the e-book. Otherwise I usually prefer the paperback over the ebook. I do love paper, the touch and smell of it. And I adore bookshops! I have wonderful memories of standing in line early in the morning at a bookshop in Västerlanggatan in Stockholm to get my hands on the newest Harry Potter book. You don’t get to have those wonderful memories with the instant gratification of e-books.

Have you written any other books that are not published?

Ahem. There might be a whole drawer full of manuscripts somewhere …

What tactics do you have when writing?

I do both, really, though I lean toward pantsing. I outline only to discover that my characters have totally different ideas, and suddenly I find myself happily pantsing away. When I start out pantsing a story, however, I inevitably get stuck sooner or later, and then I need to retrace my story and outline. Too detailed an outline doesn’t work for me, however. I find that restrictive.

What is the toughest criticism given to you as an author?

“This is boring” – at school, response by a classmate. Ouch. The positive side of this experience is that it now motivates me to learn the craft of good writing: it made me aware that we tell stories to our readers, not only to ourselves. And readers want to be entertained, gripped and drawn into the story. Learning to write like this is what I am currently obsessing about.

Where can we find you online? 

Please visit me at my website www.sofilaporte.com where I blog about reading, writing and exploring castle ruins (my particular hobby) – with a sprinkle of magic! Also on Instagram and Twitter.