Jaye Wells

Craft Thursday: Picking Up The Pace

Happy Craft Thursday! Today I’m going to tackle a reader question. Miss Bliss asked:

“How do you figure out chapter breaks? I mean…I am kind of baffled by the overall structure of an entire book. Do you have a certain page amount you think it should be? Or does it have to do with a certain amount of plot advancement?”

So chapter breaks … The crux of this issue comes down to pacing. I write very fast-paced stories, so my philosophy for chapter breaks is of the “get in late and leave early” school. Meaning I start each chapter in the middle of action and leave at a moment of high tension. The way I think about it is if I want to go “Duhn duhn DUNH!” at the end of the chapter then I’m going the job right.

Every author differs on the issue of chapter length. Typically, my chapters tend to be about ten pages long. They get longer as the book progresses, but in general I break my books into ten page sequences. That rhythm works for my style of story telling. And yes it is very much about rhythm. Shorter chapters speed up pace and raise tension. Longer chapters slow it down. Neither way is right or wrong. A lot depends on your genre and whether your books are plot-driven or character-driven.

I actually don’t decide on my chapters until the book is pretty far into the process. My first draft is a collection of scenes that I write mostly out of order. Later, I decide how many scenes to include in each chapter to maximize the pace. Other writers I know meticulously plot out each chapter and don’t deviate too much from the initial plan. Still others write the book straight through and then insert chapter breaks.

So I guess my answer is: It’s up to you.

Authors are constantly having to keep track of rhythms in their writing–from word choice to sentence construction to chapter breaks to plot structure. To decide how long or short your chapters need to be, you need to be aware of the experience you want your readers to have. I want my readers to keep turning pages. Therefore, I make sure that the end of each chapter makes flipping that page irresistible. But this isn’t appropriate for every genre, so other authors use different criteria for when to end a chapter.

If you’re still unsure, I’d recommend you pick up books by your favorite authors and pay attention to where they end their chapters. Chances are good you’ll start to recognize their own patterns once you’re paying attention.

Thanks for your question, Miss Bliss!

If anyone else has a question, leave it in comments and I’l try to tackle it on a future Craft Thursday. Happy writing!

2 Thoughts on “Craft Thursday: Picking Up The Pace

  1. THANK YOU! That was immensely helpful. One of my very favorite books of all time is East of Eden by John Steinbeck. One thing I love about it is that for a very long book that has a huge cast of characters and a very dense story it reads like a house on fire. That is all about pacing. As I was reading your answer I thought “Hmm, I should pick up East of Eden and study how it’s structured.” It’s also very encouraging to read that you tend to write in scenes that are not necessarily in order when you write them. I also tend to write in scenes, that is always how the story comes to me. It bits and pieces…moments of dialogue or action. I’m still trying to figure out how to string them all together to make a coherent story that does’t read like a bad TV show.

  2. JayeWells on November 18, 2011 at 10:58 am said:

    Miss Bliss, Glad it helped. Sometimes it’s hard to walk that line between drama and melodrama. I think the trick it to let your scenes develop organically. Don’t try to force the story in a direction too soon because the tendency is to force it into the direction of the genre formulas. Some of it comes from practice, too. Plotting was always a struggle for me until I made peace with my process.

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