On Writing & Publishing by Robin D. Owens

Personal notes on writing techniques, writing a novel, my writing career and threading your way through publishing a book.

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Location: Denver, United States

RITA Award Winning Author -- that's like the Oscar, folks! Futuristic/Fantasy Romance and Fantasy with Romantic Subplots.

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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Chapter Length -- Pacing

Ok, I've been very excited (and in promo mode) about Heart Choice coming out NEXT TUESDAY, and being a Scorpio, I've obsessed -- one of the reasons I'm talking about Writing and Publishing on this blog, too, because those are my usual obsessions.

However, wrenching my mind back to give information and "my take" on writing, I'll talk about chapter length today.

To make a sweeping statement, I'll say, in general (notice the qualifier) a writer can have longer chapter lengths (and we'll be talking Manuscript Pages) in historical novels and fantasy. Generally, the readers of these genres are acceptable of longer chapters.

I've given chapter length much thought. When I started writing seriously, my manuscript chapters ranged from 18-28 pages -- a long range, but varrying chapter lengths is good, too, to control the pace the reader experiences -- the rhythm of the book, instead of dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum, you can do da-dum-dum-da-da-dum...it's a different "sound" or pace in the brain, not static, keeps the brain engaged.

Now my manuscript chapter lengths run from 13-20 pages. And these are not all "natural" breaks, that is they don't necessarily occur when I'm writing. I'll write what I think is a chapter, then set up a master document in Word Perfect (I consider Word Perfect to be the best "writer's word processing program" as other programs are the best graphic's programs for artists, etc.) I'll check out the number of pages in a chapter and move the chapter breaks around (I should have a couple of appropriate hooks at the end of scenes). Why?

The modern reader. We are used to faster and faster action in movies, shorter time segments on commercial tv before commercial breaks.

As a writer, the most important thing in your book is to hold the readers' attention.

Let me say that again, it's THAT important.

As a writer, the most important thing in your book is to hold the readers' attention.

Why? Because once a reader puts down a book, they might not pick it up again. If they don't pick it up again, they don't finish the story, if they don't finish the story, the next time they go to a bookstore and see your next book, they think "Oh, yeah, I STARTED something of hers/his, but I don't recall the story, did I ever finish it? -- oh, look, here's something by Susie X and I ALWAYS finish her books. I'll spend my nickel on her!"

ANYTHING that jolts the reader -- POV jumping around, awkward sentences or paragraph structure -- can make the reader put down the book if there is an outside distraction, and you can be doomed....ok, a little melodramatic, but it's true.

So, chapter length, mine is shorter to hold the reader's attention -- "oh, there's only three more pages to this chapter, guess I'll finish it..." then if you have a good hook, the reader keeps on going farther.

DOWNSIDE -- yes, there is a downside to all this. And this is a PUBLISHING CONCERN downside -- paper. Each time you do a new chapter, the publisher sets it off 1/3 to 1/2 a page of "white space" or "blank space." So you might have more pages in a book and if you do, the print can be smaller and the cost can rise -- both tough things for the reader.

Those are my words of wisdom for today.

Love to all,


Blogger sex scenes at starbucks said...

I've been concerned because I have three POVs running through my series and it's supposed to be such a no-no. But my readers so far have said that they like it, care about all the characters, and that they can't put the books down anyway...

I try not to keep it in one point of view so long that the reader loses track of one of the characters. My least favorite way of handling POV (when reading) is chapter by chapter by chapter. Each of my chapters touch each characters. Mostly.

I think it will be the last time I try it though.

6:29 AM  
Anonymous a reader said...

Chapters can have different "scenes" as theater plays do. What holds the attention is a good tale written with honesty. Most readers I know like secondary stories - if the author knows how to do them - they add more depth and complexity to the main story, in life things do not happen in secuence.
I just buy novels I have read at the Library if they are worth a second go. This way the "trick" of trying to sell one story for the price of two does not work. An example: Twin of fire/Twin of ice, check for yourself at the nearest Library. As one book fun, as two ... not worh it! One feels cheatet and manipulated, not a good feeling; I'll never buy her books again. It is not wise for any author (or anybody in business)to despise their clients; can lead to "out of business" signs.

3:38 PM  
Anonymous Danica said...

I like this. Very interesting thoughts, I hadn't actually thought of it from the publisher's perspective like that.

3:44 PM  
Blogger Michele said...

Always interesting to hear your POV on things.
Thanks for sharing!

7:05 PM  
Blogger Robin D Owens said...

Sex, differing POVs are an author's choice and if handled well, are not bothersome. In Guardian of Honor, I had four POVs at sometime throughout the book. In Sorceress of Faith I started out with 2, ended up with 3.

Reader -- thanks for the comment!

Danica and Michele -- LOL, yes, I SHOULD do the standard disclaimer -- this is how I see things, and my vision might not exactly be clear...


9:15 PM  
Blogger Diana said...

I'm also very excited about Heart Choice coming out Tuesday, I have it pre-ordered and I'm crossing my fingers the store will get it in before I leave for our NYC vacation.

I've enjoyed all the books in this series and you don't have to worry about shorter chapters for keeping this reader's attention, my problem is putting the book down long enough to get a few hours sleep before I finish it by reading it almost non-stop.

I really liked Guardian of Honor too, though for some reason I had trouble getting into the book during the first chapter and did put it down and not get to it for a few weeks. Once I read past that first Chapter I was hooked.

4:59 PM  
Blogger Robin D Owens said...


5:26 PM  

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