Y’all, I have to be honest. I’m in a bit of a reading slump. The last few books I’ve read have been good, but, somehow, they’ve managed to drag. I’ve felt like I’ve spent hours upon hours reading the same book, and it’s left me with the distinct feeling that I’m spinning my tires in the mud.
I have spent more time than I care to admit wondering why that is. The pacing of the stories are excellent. The writing and editing is up to snuff, ensuring that every word counts. So, what gives? Why do I feel like it’s a slog when, objectively, it couldn’t be further from that?
I’ve talked before about how I approach reviews as unbiased as possible, taking as much of my own personal preference out of the equation as I can to give every book as much of a shot as possible. What has been blowing my mind is that these stories are good. I’m enjoying the time I’ve spent reading them. I love the characters, the overall storyline, the dialogue. Everything is chef’s kiss!
But then it hit me like a freight train during one of my unending rants to my best friend on one of our many coffee dates.
It’s the chapter length.
I realized that I have a strong preference for shorter chapters. Longer chapters leave me feeling worn down and I often find myself putting the book down for longer periods of time than I typically would. I had to ask myself if this was just preference or if there is a reason for it.
Turns out, I’m not the only one who feels this way.
I talked to quite a few of my reading pals, did a bit of research, and it all led to an eye-opening revelation.
Shorter chapters make your books un-put-downable.
The more I thought about it, the more it makes sense!
Let’s be real, attention spans aren’t the greatest nowadays.
We live in a society where every single second seems to be packed with something. Work, school, kids, social obligations, your skincare regiment — all of these things take time. Our departure into the realm of reading is often during the stolen moments of our day. I’m not too proud to admit that I’ve read more than my fair share of chapters from the bathroom (don’t judge. You have to sneak it in while you can, right?).
Shorter chapters allow for more frequent glances. Waiting for the kettle to boil? Read a chapter! Waiting for something to print? Read a chapter! Got another ten minutes on the washing machine (even though it said ten minutes ago twenty minutes prior)? Read.
If a book has longer chapters, readers are less inclined to return to it during those brief pauses. Why?
Readers like to find stopping points.
It’s easier to resume reading if you stop at the start of a new chapter, as opposed to in the middle of a scene.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some readers who don’t mind — who read until they can’t anymore and easily resume their place. But, anecdotally speaking, most people I’ve spoken to like to read to a “suitable stopping point”, and then resume later.
I have, in the past, counted down the pages during a particularly long chapter to see how long I was “stuck” there. And this was for books I loved.
What I’ve realized is
People like to be able to binge read
I like to call it the “alarm clock” fallacy. “Just five more minutes” can easily translate to “just one more chapter.”
There is something wickedly indulgent about devouring three to four chapters in a row (bonus points if it took about twenty minutes or so to get there). It makes it feel like the whole book can be devoured in an entire evening. When the chapters are long, even I (who earns a small income reading and reviewing books) can feel like I “don’t have the time,” so I may as well finish this marathon of Ozark (by the way, have you watched it? So many chef’s kisses).
So how long should my chapters be?
Google tells me that chapters should be anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 words. But many writers are opting to go with the “potato chip chapter” approach. Shawn Coyne in his book The Story Grid, describes them as being about 2,000 words long with an ending that leaves the reader wanting more.
But ultimately, it’s a matter of taste
There are going to be people out there who despise short chapters — both reading and writing them. There are going to be people who love them (guess which team I’m on). Like with most things, you’re never going to please everyone.
But, if you’re curious, why not give it a go?
Your readers might thank you! Or, maybe they’ll yell at you for keeping them up until four in the morning. It’s a mixed bag!
To all my writer friends out there, what’s your average word count per chapter? And to my reading friends, what team are you on? Team short-chapter, or team long-chapter! I would love to know your reasons!
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