S.G. Browne

Fiction Friday: Short Chapters Rule, Long Chapters Drool

I’m not a big fan of long chapters.

I prefer my chapters short and manageable. Chapters that give me some dialogue, some action, some character building, some plot movement, and don’t screw around with excessive description or weighty exposition or ten-page flashbacks.

Call me a product of Hollywood movies.

Plus short chapters give me a definite place to stop. With long chapters I always feel like I’m being forced to keep reading to the end when sometimes I just want to roll over and go to sleep. At least give me a break in the middle of the chapter, a space or a line of asterisks or some fancy little symbol so I don’t have to pick up the book mid-scene and try to remember where I stopped and what was going on. It’s like stopping in the middle of a conversation while you’re at a bar and trying to remember what you were talking about before you did another shot of Jagermeister.

Writing a chapter is like giving a speech. You really only have 3-5 minutes before people lose their interest. But because I’m being generous, let’s say you’ve got 10-15 minutes. Tops. After that, eyes are turning glassy and people are wondering where to take their next vacation and what to have for dinner and and how to kill their boss without going to jail.

Book chapters should be governed by the same rules. 10-15 pages, max. You exceed that and I’m flipping forward, wondering how much longer it’s going to take me to finish this damn chapter so I can feel like I have a sense of closure.

Yes, I’m a little bit obsessive compulsive. But so are you. Admit it.

Right now I’m reading Look at Me by Jennifer Egan, which at 415 pages and 20 chapters averages nearly 21 pages per chapter. To make matters worse, the book is written in 10-point Times Roman so there’s more than 400 words per page. Come on! That’s a good 100 words per page more than Carl Hiaasen’s Star Island, which is written in 12-point Times Roman and, at 354 pages and 31 chapters, comes in at a much more reasonable 11.4 pages per chapter.

Bing, bang, boom.

In this age where e-mails and text messages and Facebook status updates have replaced hand-written letters and phone calls and actual conversations, where in another generation Twitter will have made it impossible for anyone to have any kind of interaction that’s longer than 140 characters, I think short chapters are definitely going to be in demand.

Fortunately I’m already ahead of the game, as Breathers, with 310 pages and 58 chapters, comes in at 5.3 pages per chapter (PPC), while Fated (352 pages and 54 chapters) has a PPC of 6.5.


After going through a random sampling on my bookshelf, I discovered that the majority of my favorite novels have short chapters, with The Great Gatsby being one exception to the rule with a PPC of 20. And nearly every novel written by Chuck Palahniuk, Christopher Moore, and Kurt Vonnegut comes in with a PPC of less than 10.

True, Slaughterhouse Five has only 10 chapters and a PPC of just over 20, but each chapter is broken up into as many as 80 separate sections and some of the chapters even have pictures. Bonus! So it’s still technically in the club. And then there’s Cat’s Cradle with 191 pages and 127 chapters for a PPC of 1.5, which is by far the lowest PPC of any novel I’ve ever read and sets the bar for ADD readers and Twitter-philes.

Can I have a hallelujah?

Conversely, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings has nearly 35 pages per chapter for the entire trilogy, which probably explains why I never made it past The Fellowship of the Ring. You ask me, it needed more pictures.

Here are some other notable books I own and their PPC quotient (based on the copies on my shelf):

  • The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger (214 pages / 26 chapters / 8.2 ppc)
  • Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk (218 pages / 31 chapters / 7.0 ppc)
  • Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov (309 pages / 36 chapters / 8.6 ppc)
  • The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler (231 pages / 32 chapters / 7.2 ppc)
  • Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro (288 pages / 23 chapters / 12.5 ppc)
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams (143 pages / 35 chapters / 4.1 ppc)
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain (322 pages / 43 chapters / 7.5 ppc)
  • High Fidelity, Nick Hornby (323 pages / 35 chapters / 9.2 ppc)
  • The Stand, Stephen King (817 pages / 66 chapters / 12.4 ppc) *The original version, not the complete and uncut version, which has a PPC of 14.8

So where do you sit? Long chapters? Short chapters? Tequila shots instead of Jagermeister? Have at it. Or not. It’s a free country.

Filed under: Fiction,Fiction Fridays,Just Blogging,The Writing Life — S.G. Browne @ 9:19 pm


  1. You can have a hallelujah!

    Comment by Helen Letourneau — July 29, 2011 @ 6:00 am

  2. Amen sister!

    Comment by admin — July 29, 2011 @ 7:40 am

  3. Hallelujah for short chapters (or at least a good stopping point in longer chapters).

    Also….”don’t screw around with excessive description or weighty exposition or ten-page flashbacks.” ….I’ll give that an AMEN!

    Comment by Peggy — July 29, 2011 @ 12:20 pm

  4. Thanks for the hallelujah and the amen, Peggy.

    Comment by admin — July 29, 2011 @ 2:18 pm

  5. Absolutely! Shorter chapters rule! Glad you made this point — it’s something I’ve often pondered but never thought to write about. That’s why you, sir, make the big bucks! :D

    Comment by Zuzana — July 30, 2011 @ 8:10 am

  6. Thanks Zuzana. I’m not sure anyone else would have taken the time to sift through books and figure out how many average pages there were per chapter. Or how many words were on a printed page.

    Comment by admin — July 30, 2011 @ 10:36 am

  7. Nice title Scott. Didn’t read much past that. Seemed a bit wordy.

    Comment by matt thomas — July 30, 2011 @ 10:36 am

  8. Yeah, well, when you score 390 on the verbal part of your SAT, I don’t really expect that you read much more than titles. (And for anyone who might be wondering, I’ve known the author of the previous comment since high school.)

    Comment by admin — July 30, 2011 @ 10:54 am

  9. What a witty and informative article, thanks for posting it!
    I’m currently writing a high/dark fantasy novel (first one). Can you please clarify something in regards to this? I’ve been typing out my book on microsoft word as Times New Roman font 12 single spaced, but double spaced between paragraphs. How do I know how many pages it’s going to be when it comes into print? So far mine is about 7 PPC.

    Comment by Laura — January 1, 2013 @ 3:25 pm

  10. Laura, you can never know for sure how many pages it will be when it comes into print, as they can use different fonts and layouts to affect your final page count.

    However, I would suggest writing your manuscript in double space all the way through, not just between paragraphs, as I believe that’s the format most agents and editors prefer. And good luck!

    Comment by admin — January 3, 2013 @ 7:34 am

  11. No matter how engaging the book is, long chapters just really bring down the points. Hallelujah, amen, genuflect, the whole shebang.
    I’m not really writing a novel. Or so I’m telling myself. That said, I found I had to start writing down my story. Primary reason is because the story is in a constant state of flux unless I start committing it to a written format. The other reason is I start forgetting chunks of the story over the years. Yes, years. I’m ultimately planning to make the story into comics (that’s the conservative goal), the pie-in-the-sky goal is making it into a motion picture. Go ahead, laugh.

    I’ve been toying with the concept and the story since 2002 and the most I’ve done in all those years was write down one chapter, three half-written chapters in the middle and lots of character synopses and portraits. Yes, drawings of them, in their natural habitat; Clad and shod of course, well most them..

    The last two months have been the most productive in that I’ve written 10 additional chapters. I don’t know if this hyperactivity can be attributed to the seven year itch, the midlife crisis or what. Whatever it is, I’m feel great. But knowing how much of a perfectionist and procrastinator I am, let’s see how long this windfall actually lasts.

    My ppc, an acronym I just picked up from your post, is 2 to 3 pages a chapter. If I’m feeling really wordy, I’ll bump it up to 5 or 6 pages but there’s literally only two chapters that are that long. Is it ridiculous to have a ppc of 2 or 3? My reasoning for this is I like to end the chapter when I want to do “scene changes”. I’m not looking down on the reader but I don’t want the reader (or myself for that matter) to get confused if I’m switching from character A in location 1 situation suspense to character B in location 2 situation not-suspense. What are your thoughts on this?

    Also as I discover it’s somewhat fun reading what I’ve wrote.. I’m not entirely sure if this is just non-writer euphoria or me objectively seeing actual merit in what I`m writing but I’m now wondering if this will become a novel in the end. Is a 3 part 3ppc 300 hundred chapter novel sound like laughing stock or have you seen anything published that’s like that? Would a publisher or editor care either way? Will it offend their sense of aesthetics?

    Comment by Allistaire — March 8, 2013 @ 8:06 pm

  12. Allistaire, while I don’t recall reading a novel recently that was like the one you’re writing, Cat’s Cradle by Vonnegut comes closest, with 127 chapters at 1.5 pages per chapter, as I mentioned above. And then there’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer and The History of Love by Nicole Krauss that have their own unique formats and forms of storytelling.

    As for whether or not a publisher or editor would care, I think that would depend on the publisher and editor. So long as the book works, I don’t think the form or format would offend anyone’s aesthetics.

    Hope that helps.

    Comment by admin — March 10, 2013 @ 8:03 pm

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