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Thread: Weighing in on Length?

  1. #1
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    Default Weighing in on Length?

    I'm curious to hear what others have to say, since I've seen complaints about the length of a story quite a few times on here. What is your stance when it comes to the length of a chapter? Does the length of a story overrun your interest in the story despite the quality of the story itself?

    I do have to say, I get a tad annoyed when I visit threads on quality stories that get little to no critique simply based on the length of the story itself. I can perhaps understand complaints about length if there's too much fluff and unneeded content in description. I can also understand how it could be annoying to invest yourself in a story that has nothing of value obtained by the end of the chapter or barely anything progressed, a "filler" so to speak.

    I'm not sure if length even qualifies as a "flaw" for a story. I think mainly this is because many, if not most, prefer story with short chapters and quick updates. I've done the opposite almost all the time, releasing more sizable chapters between long intervals of time. While long chapters aren't a necessity for a good story, I don't think 50+ plus chapters of short content released in short intervals of time is the standard either. This method seems to mainly be done to hold a strong following for the fic.

    I don't think, or never have thought, a writer should aim for a "specific" amount of words when it comes to writing a chapter. I believe in timeline writing, writing through events that I plan to transpire throughout the chapter and that are done in a decent/quality manner until I've gotten through the events rather than aiming for word count.

    Thoughts? Comments? Replies? Are my ideals justified or petty?

  2. #2
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    I agree with you completely. The 'shorter is better' mentality never really made sense to me. I think the problem with longer chapters in fanfiction is that instead of adding more to character development, worldbuilding, or general description writers add more unimportant events that just happen and then are forgotten once the next event comes up. That's one of my biggest pet peeves in fanfiction, two thirds of the time a chapter is almost all dialog with barely any exposition. It screws up the pacing of the chapter. Dialog is meant to feel fast and reactionary, so by the time you're done with the chapter it seems like nothing really moved in the plot.

    Even if shorter chapters allow for a quicker update speed, I'd rather have longer chapters. Even in published fiction shorter chapters throw me off. James Patterson's Angel series, or whatever it's called, has extremely short chapters that range anywhere from a single page to maybe five? It breaks up the rhythm of the pacing and it might take ten chapters for anything of interest to actually take place.

    In my own writing, I go for longer chapters, but I set the plot up in a more episodic pace. Kind of like Harry Potter, where a few weeks or a month might pass between chapters and things might have happened in that time, but they weren't important enough to warrant being part of the chapter. It also helps justify the length of chapters in case people don't want to wait a longer period of time between updates since each chapter is built like a short story with its own minor resolution. That way there is a sense of something being accomplished while still leaving a few hooks to pull the reader into the next chapter.

    This is all just personal preference though. Some people like shorter chapters, and the medium of fanfiction is primarily read online so there's always the battle with readers' short attention span. : /

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  3. #3
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    People who comment on length frequently do so because:

    1. They believe that length has some kind of correlation to quality (which is a generalization and not really one a reviewer should bring into their critique at that).
    2. They misunderstand the length rule.

    With the first, there's been heavy debate as to whether or not more means more. As in, there's been debate as to whether a longer chapter is a better chapter. To be honest, it's really difficult to judge. There's valid arguments for the long = better camp, namely that you generally assume that someone would put more effort into constructing a longer chapter (not to mention shorter ones tend to be put out by newer authors -- which is, incidentally, also the same argument made towards the long fic = better argument), but on the other hand, you don't really judge a person's ability to construct plot, develop characters, and string together decent sentences by looking at chapter length. Likewise, longer chapters tend to have a whole list of risks associated with them too, including:

    1. Giving yourself more space puts you at risk for giving in to the temptation of throwing filler into your chapters. I have legit seen long chapters in which characters spent at least a page discussing philosophy for no other reason than because they could.

    2. You have to sustain a reader's attention for a long period of time. True story? In the first version of one of my fics, chapters tended to be twenty pages long. And then I got multiple complaints saying I needed to cut down that length because no one had time to sit through an entire chapter. The thing is, fics are not like books in that you can't just take them anywhere you want to go, and that's something that's absolutely vital to understanding the question. I mean, to be more detailed with a fantastically placed tangent, fics are and aren't like published books for a whole list of reasons, so there's times when comparing professionally done literature to fics works and others when it doesn't. This... might be a little more of the latter, if I may say so, and in this case, it's because of the portability issue. See, with fics, readers are confined to sitting in front of their computers (or reading your work on a mobile device) and hoping that they won't lose their place if they get called away from their reading. At least with professionally published lit and an actual e-reader (app, device, take your pick), you have the ability to save your place, but with forums? You risk having the page refresh on you, scrolling past your "save point" when you put your device in a carrier to take it with you, and so forth. There's just no guarantees. In the end, it's actually an inconvenience for the reader unless they want to power through your chapter... which, if they want to review, isn't always going to be a good idea because it means they spend less time absorbing everything.

    3. Never mind, of course, the risk of actually making your reader feel as if your chapter is dragging on and on. The whole point to having chapters is to break up your plot into chunks. The longer you go, the more likely you'll have a reader or few who will feel as if the chapter should have ended four pages ago. And in some cases, they could be right. Sometimes, there really is no reason why you should have a chapter cover seven different scenes. It's okay to break things down and group them by what makes sense if it's not absolutely necessary to present a longer chunk of your story.

    But to be fair, sometimes, your story is better off told in longer spans. It's a style choice, and it's up to you as an author to decide what works for your story. Just be wary of the fact that both styles carry risks. You both have already pointed out some of the problems with releasing shorter chapters (not to mention there's the issue that you've got less space to tell a story in), but it's a good idea to recognize that there's risks to longer chapters as well. My advice is just to tell a story exactly as it needs to be told, and if that means using long chapters instead of shorter ones or vice versa, go right ahead.

    As a critic, though, you should be looking at the actual quality of the chapter, not the length. In fact, it's probably a good idea not to bring up length without bringing up anything else about the story at the same time. For example, it's perfectly valid to leave a review that covers plot, characterization, and so forth and then add in, "By the way, I felt like this could be a bit longer because [insert reason actually having to do with the story itself here]." It's not okay to bring up length as your main point or as your only point. Why? Because that's something you can spot in five seconds. If that's all you have to say to an author, then... that's kind of saying you couldn't be bothered to read what they wrote. Not everyone's going to take it that well, especially if they aren't getting that many reviews as it is. So instead of bringing that up, it'd probably be a good idea to focus on the content of the fic. You can have a mind-blowingly awesome fic with chapters that clock in at somewhere under 1000 words a piece. It's happened, and it's even happened on this forum. And more than that, the author has made the decision to tell the story that way, so there's probably a good reason for it. That said, just keep an open mind if you click on a story and see a short burst of writing.

    Edit: Of course, like I said, there's a difference between fic and other lit. If you're writing something that will eventually be a print book or e-book, I'm still inclined to say it's up to the story, but I also acknowledge that writing a twenty-page chapter doesn't carry with it the same risks as a twenty-page fanfiction chapter.
    Last edited by JX Valentine; 22nd February 2013 at 9:36 PM.

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  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by JX Valentine View Post
    People who comment on length frequently do so because:

    1. They believe that length has some kind of correlation to quality (which is a generalization and not really one a reviewer should bring into their critique at that).
    2. They misunderstand the length rule.

    With the first, there's been heavy debate as to whether or not more means more. As in, there's been debate as to whether a longer chapter is a better chapter. To be honest, it's really difficult to judge. There's valid arguments for the long = better camp, namely that you generally assume that someone would put more effort into constructing a longer chapter (not to mention shorter ones tend to be put out by newer authors -- which is, incidentally, also the same argument made towards the long fic = better argument), but on the other hand, you don't really judge a person's ability to construct plot, develop characters, and string together decent sentences by looking at chapter length. Likewise, longer chapters tend to have a whole list of risks associated with them too, including:

    1. Giving yourself more space puts you at risk for giving in to the temptation of throwing filler into your chapters. I have legit seen long chapters in which characters spent at least a page discussing philosophy for no other reason than because they could.

    2. You have to sustain a reader's attention for a long period of time. True story? In the first version of one of my fics, chapters tended to be twenty pages long. And then I got multiple complaints saying I needed to cut down that length because no one had time to sit through an entire chapter. The thing is, fics are not like books in that you can't just take them anywhere you want to go, and that's something that's absolutely vital to understanding the question. I mean, to be more detailed with a fantastically placed tangent, fics are and aren't like published books for a whole list of reasons, so there's times when comparing professionally done literature to fics works and others when it doesn't. This... might be a little more of the latter, if I may say so, and in this case, it's because of the portability issue. See, with fics, readers are confined to sitting in front of their computers (or reading your work on a mobile device) and hoping that they won't lose their place if they get called away from their reading. At least with professionally published lit and an actual e-reader (app, device, take your pick), you have the ability to save your place, but with forums? You risk having the page refresh on you, scrolling past your "save point" when you put your device in a carrier to take it with you, and so forth. There's just no guarantees. In the end, it's actually an inconvenience for the reader unless they want to power through your chapter... which, if they want to review, isn't always going to be a good idea because it means they spend less time absorbing everything.

    3. Never mind, of course, the risk of actually making your reader feel as if your chapter is dragging on and on. The whole point to having chapters is to break up your plot into chunks. The longer you go, the more likely you'll have a reader or few who will feel as if the chapter should have ended four pages ago. And in some cases, they could be right. Sometimes, there really is no reason why you should have a chapter cover seven different scenes. It's okay to break things down and group them by what makes sense if it's not absolutely necessary to present a longer chunk of your story.

    But to be fair, sometimes, your story is better off told in longer spans. It's a style choice, and it's up to you as an author to decide what works for your story. Just be wary of the fact that both styles carry risks. You both have already pointed out some of the problems with releasing shorter chapters (not to mention there's the issue that you've got less space to tell a story in), but it's a good idea to recognize that there's risks to longer chapters as well. My advice is just to tell a story exactly as it needs to be told, and if that means using long chapters instead of shorter ones or vice versa, go right ahead.

    As a critic, though, you should be looking at the actual quality of the chapter, not the length. In fact, it's probably a good idea not to bring up length without bringing up anything else about the story at the same time. For example, it's perfectly valid to leave a review that covers plot, characterization, and so forth and then add in, "By the way, I felt like this could be a bit longer because [insert reason actually having to do with the story itself here]." It's not okay to bring up length as your main point or as your only point. Why? Because that's something you can spot in five seconds. If that's all you have to say to an author, then... that's kind of saying you couldn't be bothered to read what they wrote. Not everyone's going to take it that well, especially if they aren't getting that many reviews as it is. So instead of bringing that up, it'd probably be a good idea to focus on the content of the fic. You can have a mind-blowingly awesome fic with chapters that clock in at somewhere under 1000 words a piece. It's happened, and it's even happened on this forum. And more than that, the author has made the decision to tell the story that way, so there's probably a good reason for it. That said, just keep an open mind if you click on a story and see a short burst of writing.

    Edit: Of course, like I said, there's a difference between fic and other lit. If you're writing something that will eventually be a print book or e-book, I'm still inclined to say it's up to the story, but I also acknowledge that writing a twenty-page chapter doesn't carry with it the same risks as a twenty-page fanfiction chapter.
    In truth, you put up a lot of sense. From experience in writing a variety of literature, the content matters the most.

    The length in truth will vary. And to make your story hold the right amount of content and length, you could do a chapter chart. The beauty of a Chapter chart though is that it is all up to you on how you write your chapter chart. Make your personal one if you ever wanted to. It helps you to keep your fanfic in check. Plus, you can edit it anytime when the need arises. A tip though, if you edit a chapter found early in your story, keep in mind that the chapters ahead will be affected as well. My personal types could either be.

    a. Story content details of all the chapters on an arc (my personally used kind)
    b. Story details and length of every chapter
    c. Story content of every chapter while rating the amount of Plot focused and filler based content.

    For me, I use a chapter chart if I am making a fanfic that will be a series whether long or short. As of my current Feli Chronicles and my pre-planned PMD story, I use a chapter chart to place the details of the kind of content, details of the content, and the amount of content I want to place in every chapter. Sometimes, this is applicable if your Fanfic or original story is a big Arc or saga.

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  5. #5
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    In my experience, I have found that the vast majority of my chapters in my original fiction are between eight to thirteen chapters in length (in Times New Roman 14 pt font, single spaced). I've just found that, for me, that ratio has allowed me to put in the right amount of content into a chapter without the passage seeming too weighty and dragging on, but also prevent them from being too brief and without anything of note occurring. On occasion, I'll write a chapter a few pages longer, but it is extremely rare I have a chapter less than 8 pages. That may have happened three or four times out of the roughly 250 chapters I've written.

    Now, for fanfiction, I stay far more closer to 8 pages than the heavier end of the spectrum. Oftentimes I found myself writing less, in the ballpark of six pages.

    Now, length of the chapters should not, as those who replied before me have said, be mistaken as a mark of quality. Someone can write a 25 page chapter and it can be nothing but purple prose and extraneous description. Likewise, a chapter that's only three pages long can be a wonderful piece of writing. As stated above, I've found that my fanfiction tends to be significantly less than my original fiction, but I couldn't tell you a coherent reason why. It's entirely up to the writer, and will vary among different writers writing in different fandoms. Do what you personally think feels right, and no one can rightly tell you that it's wrong.
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  6. #6
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    I generaly prefer to read short chapters. When reading a book, I can stop reading at any time, even in the middle of a chapter. All I have to do is mark my place, and I can come back later. On a computer, there's no convient way to mark my place, so I must read on, to the end of the chapter. Sometimes, I don't have that kind of time.
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  7. #7
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    I try to not think too much about the actual length of my chapters when writing fan fiction. I usually go into a chapter with certain events I'm looking to accomplish and however many pages that takes, is how long I write for whether that takes 5 pages or 12 pages.

    I mean, I do find myself guilty of the occasional "filler" chapter but for the most part, as long as I'm focusing on what I want to convey to the reader, I don't get too many complaints about length. I think the most important part is to simply try to convey to your reader the important points of your character's journey (whatever that may be). If that means entire years pass between chapters because nothing is happening in relation to the narrative during that time span, then so be it.
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