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Sunday, 19 June 2011

Questions about chapter length and word count

I don't often talk about my own writing on here but I have been musing about chapter length and word count and so I thought I'd post about it.

I'm writing a book for 9+ readers. It's a sci-fi novel. I've written a complete first draft which came in at 42000 words.

I've been editing. Today I worked on Chapter 9. I randomly decided to see how many words I'd cut from the first 9 chapters. I was really surprised when it turned out that I had only cut 219 words. I have cut a lot more than that but as I rework certain parts of the structure, I have had to add in scenes etc. I'm confident that I'm not adding in unnecessary information. So for those in the know, I have a question: Is a novel of around 40000 words a comfortable length for the 9+ market?

The second query I have is regarding chapter length. Should chapters be of a consistent length? Would it be unadvisable to have a chapter that is say longer than the others by about 300 words? Or is it ok for chapter length to vary throughout an individual novel? Is there an ideal chapter length for 9+ readers?

And a final question, should an aspiring writer have an online presence? Is a blog like this one appropriate for that purpose? Or should it be more focused on the process of writing? If you have any links to articles on this issue, please share them. We are going to be talking about this issue on my writing course in a couple of weeks.

If you have an aspiring writer blog, feel welcome to link it in the comments.

19 comments:

Nikki-ann said...

I couldn't tell you abuot the number of words in a chapter, but I do think it's important that chapter lengths are fairly short for childrens books. As for length consistancy, I think it's fine for one or two chapters to be longer than the others.

I think authors should have an online presence these days. In relation to childrens authors, then it's probably a good idea to have a website/blog where an interested child can come and browse... learn about the characters, setting etc. Maybe have some interactivity. Unless, of course, the blog is aimed at publishers etc.

Jules (The Great, The Good and The Bad) said...

I'm sorry I don't have any advice, it's an age range that I am not overly familiar with.

I just wanted to say good luck!

Caroline said...

:) *waves*
Yay for the writing!
I do think that chapters need to be relatively equal in terms of length but one or two exceptions will not ruin it! 40k seems about right but i'm sure your future agent/editor would say if it wasn't.

As for the online presence, it is really up to you, not everyone has one and they still are very successful authors. It might help you with tips etc. but if it's for a mean for you to connect with your readers, the book website with a blog in it can do the work.

I am not sure if I am not confusing you further with this :-/
Hope you're fine x

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

I don't think your book is too long. And in any event, kids shouldn't be underestimated as readers. I was never one to care about the length of a book if the story was good.

I don't mind if chapter lengths vary, I don't mind it at all. I think that with kids, though, it's only important not to have chapters that are too long. I think shorter chapters create the illusion of things moving on at a fast pace, and I bet kids love action.

Online presence - yes! A big yes! I love authors with blogs. It makes them look more approachable. After all, writers are humans too and it's good one can be able to follow their blogs, be more in touch with them. Some authors even have vlogs, like John Green. (He and his brother have a great YouTube channel) I think blogs/vlogs are a really cool way to be in touch with your readers, and for readers to be in touch with their beloved authors.

Hope this helps!

Michele Helene (Verilion) said...

Hi Becky,
Is a novel of around 40000 words a comfortable length for the 9+ market?
Around the 35k + is what is about the norm for this age range.
Is there an ideal chapter length for 9+ readers?
Boy, that's the million dollar question. Personally, I go for short and sweet, but some chapters need to be longer. There's been a big discussion about this on a forum recently and the consistent answer was: as long as it needs to be. With a bit of a proviso, try not to go over 10 pages, mainly because that's pretty much the attention span of those kids.
should an aspiring writer have an online presence?
Well, all the advice seems to be pointing to yes. Again this is a personal thing, but THE BOOKETTE has a focus and identity of its own. If you want a writing online presence then put a BIG link at the top of your blog, but do something different. My blog is ALL over the place, so perhaps it's not the best example. But if you want to write it as an aspiring author blog, write about your writing journey rather than sharing advice.
Right, from one aspiring author to another...

Becky said...

Nikki-Ann, I agree that chapters should be kept short. Especially if children are reading before they go to sleep. It is good to stop where there is a natural pause in the story. I think having little breaks in the chapters can be useful too.

In terms of online presence, I'm really thinking about the stage before you have a book published. Hmmm...

Jules, thanks for the encouragement.

Caroline, hello! I see what you mean about an agent / publisher telling you to change things but surely if you know what you're doing in the first place then you have more chance of getting published.

Thinking about online presence, I guess it doesn't have to be a blog. It could be Twitter or Facebook...

Becky said...

Irena, there was a big trend a few years back to publish children's fiction that was very long in length. At school children would compare the number of pages - mine is bigger than yours attitude. But things are changing now. Children are starting to be intimidated by the chunkiness of some titles.

Vlogs... Me and video... I think that may scare people off. I just couldn't control my enthusiasm.

Michele, thanks! Sounds like my novel is a sound length then.

I think I need to get some of my personal favourite 9+ book and do a simple calulation to see average chapter length. It's hard to know how 10 pages in a paperback equates to words on the computer screen.

Maybe that's what I need to do. Have a tab for writing and start a regular "my writing journey" feature. I do feel like this blog needs a change.

Keren David said...

The length sounds about right. The chapters don't need to be equal in length, but shouldn't be too long. Mine are 2-3,000 words long, that's for teens and sometimes I think they're a bit long.
Online presence for aspiring writer - good but take care. If you share too much about submissions and especially rejections, then you can put off agents and publishers. Be your own marketing person!

Becky said...

Thanks Keren. My chapters are around 1000 words but I was worried about the occasional slightly longer ones. Those ones do tend to have a break in the middle but then they would be a bit too short as individual chapters, I think.

You make a good point. I can see that you could harm yourself by getting a bit emotional or over-excited. Do you think I could extend this blog along the lines of "aspiring writer"? Or is Michele right, does this blog have a very strong identity? It has never occurred to me that this could be the case.

Rachel Ward said...

I think your word count and chapter lengths sound fine. I think chapters can be variable - a chapter can be one sentence if it serves the purpose of moving the plot along or providing that jaw-dropping moment. If your story and characters are strong enough, a publisher will help you sort out length and form anyway.

Not sure about online presence. I've come very late to such things and am still too scared to tweet. I think your blog is well-regarded and well-followed, so I'd be tempted to stick with it and add a few blogs about your writing journey as well as your normal reviews, etc. Keren David is a fab example of someone who used blogging, etc. to great effect in the build-up to publication - so listen to her, she knows what she's talking about!

kirsty at the overflowing library said...

I had a conversation with sophie mckenzie once about chapter length. She said the kids she had spoken to said they liked short chapters because it made them feel like they were getting somewhere faster (even though they aren't as such).

Not sure it that is helpful

Becky said...

Rachel, hi! I agree. Keren is wonderful. I love her political posts as well as her writing ones. I shall certainly listen to her advice.

I would love to welcome you to Twitter. You can get lots from it. Come and join us.

Kirsty, all thoughts are helpful. And it is true. Children do like to feel like they are getting somewhere. They will often give up on a book if they don't believe they will finish it.

Thomas Taylor said...

A wise woman once told me that a book is only too long if it feels too long. I think that goes for chapters too. Mine vary and can reach up to 3000 words, but only if the natural flow of events demand that. Chapter dividers are useful too, giving the reader that sense of the book passing quickly without actually hurrying things.

I have been blogging for about two years now, with my first novel due out next summer (11+ age range). I don't know how useful having an online presence really is, but it's been a great way for me to focus my writing career and make connections. It's always good to connect to other people in the same boat. One thing though, there aren't many actual 9-year-olds who read blogs (or so I'm told), so expect an adult audience.

Vivienne said...

I would definitely go with short sharp chapters. That way you may get the reluctant readers on your side too.

A lot of published authors are only just beginning to develop an online presence,so it isn't a necessity until you get published. So you could wait or add something on here. You don't want to get bogged down with too much blogging.

Becky said...

Thomas, congratulations on the forthcoming release of your book. Yay! I agree that it is nice to connect with like-minded people. I also agree that 9 year olds are not reading blogs. I know many many children this age and there are other things they do on the net. I guess I meant in a more professional capacity. For example, as a librarian when I look for authors to come into school, I always search online to see if they have a blog, what they've been up to, which other schools they've visited. I thought perhaps agents/ publishers would also do this to see more about the person behind the book.

Vivienne, do not fear! I am not going to overwhelm myself. I am actually going to reign in this blog somewhat... especially when I go over to the team blog with Caroline. But I think a regular writing feature would be manageable. I think you're right about it being a concern further down the line.

Luisa Plaja said...

Hi Becky! I love your new blog layout - everything looks fantastic!

I'm not sure what I can add to the brilliant comments above, but just to say that in my opinion you should do whatever you feel comfortable with in terms of web presence. This blog is certainly a great form of it! I like the suggestions of adding to it with posts about your writing life.

Chapter lengths can definitely vary, and your draft length sounds about right to me.

Good luck with everything!

Melissa (i swim for oceans) said...

I'm in such a writing funk right now, but I'm loving the sound of your book! Keep up the good work :)

Jennifer O. said...

Your blog is looking good. I really like this template.

Cliona said...

I hope your book get's published! How I'd love to read a book by Becky from The Bookette!!!!

I would think 4 thousand words would be a good length for a 9+ book. I think chapters are good when they're short because they keep your interest more - but a couple of chapters a bit longer than others won't kill anyone!

I think you should have an online presence - after all, Becky, when your a famous author we'll all want to be interviewing you on our blogs :)