Some time ago, a friend and aspiring author asked me this question.
Basically, he wanted to know: Is chapter length predetermined before even putting thoughts to paper (or keyboard to monitor), or is it advisable to just write and see how it all plays out?
An excellent question for sure, and one for which I am not entirely certain there is a correct answer. As I’ve noted many times, the process by which I wrote Water Signs was highly unusual and most likely, unrepeatable. When I accompanied one of my best girlfriends to Mystic Treasures in Lantana Florida for psychic readings back in January of 2008 (our annual New Year tradition), I had absolutely no idea that this woman would recall by baptismal name a guy from my past and expound upon a relationship I’d purposely buried so deeply into my subconscious as to forget about his existence altogether.
That encounter opened a floodgate of memories that resulted in a steady, unrelenting stream of consciousness that ultimately resulted in a 435-page novel — in a span of about four months. The words literally came through me from a higher place and most of the time I didn’t have to consciously or deliberately think about the mundane mechanics of the work itself. I intuitively knew when to end one chapter and begin another — though most ended up being 20 pages or so in length.
With my sequel (which has been a WIP for years since clients are my top priority), I am attempting quite deliberately to maintain that 20-page chapter limit, since it was very effective the first time around.
But there’s a little more to it than that.
For example, one of the literary techniques I employed successfully in Water Signs was flashback — whether to an event long-ago or in the recent past. So I would in effect, finish a chapter — leading the reader to believe they knew everything there was to know about the events contained therein, only to discover some new insights about the same event(s) in the next chapter. This helped to create a little more intrigue and drama.
Keep in mind also that I am a creative type who knew from the start I wasn’t going to follow the traditional publishing path, i.e. jump through all kinds of hoops to entice a literary agent, including conducting research on my genre at a book store. With the advent of print-on-demand and social media, I realized a new, effective vehicle to reach my audience and achieve success awaited me. So I was pretty much unconcerned with “trivial” things like chapter length, outline, competing titles and authors within my category, market research, and all of the other things publishing houses obsess over (and demand that their potential authors research on their own time, with no guarantee of getting the contract anyway).
So, when considering the question, how long should book chapters be, put me in the “just write it” camp. You can always go back and edit later. Write from the heart and get ‘er done. That’s my advice.
Of course, when you hire Writestream Publishing we’ll provide superb editorial feedback to help you produce a book that meets your high standards and entertains your audience. We’ll review your manuscript for important things like pacing, believable dialogue, and good grammar. Even when penning a nonfiction book, the story must be told in such a way as to draw the reader in and hold their attention.
In the case of “faction” (a combo of fact and fiction) or fiction (purely from the imagination), the story must be even more believable than real life. With these types of books, it’s critical to use literary techniques to immerse the reader in the story and make them feel as if they are an eyewitness to the events.
These techniques include but are not limited to flashback; use of song titles (but be careful not to quote lyrics without permission); and vivid description of sights, smells, foods, and locales — all of which I employed in the writing of my novel.
One of the best repeat compliments I received about Water Signs? “I couldn’t put it down!”
Aside from a good story, I’m positive that part of the reason my readers kept turning the pages was my use of the aforementioned devices. If you can lure them in with a compelling combination of prose and dialogue while incorporating literary techniques to advance the plot and/or peel away the layers of your main characters, you will win rave reviews and build a loyal following.
With independent publishing comes freedom and variety. As authors, we’re free to create our own genres, determine the length of our chapters, and write our stories our way; for readers, this opens up a world of infinite enjoyment with expanded entertainment choices.
Yes, you still have to produce something of good quality. Yes, you are still bound by the rules of grammar. But no longer do you have to deal with “gatekeepers” at traditional publishing houses, endless rounds of rejection letters, and overall frustration.
So are you ready to share your story with the world? Contact us to set up your free, 30-minute consultation.