Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Yesterday...and Chapter Length

I spent yesterday at Loyola with one of my sons, who had a biopsy. He's fine (pending results), but I deferred posting until last night...and then deferred again because it was so late when I returned home. Since the weekend was full of errands, appointments, and such, I have little fiction to report, except some fiction-writing did happen, in scattered increments.

Thus said, I have some thoughts on a subject that was mentioned at last Thursday's WriteOn Joliet meeting: chapter length. 

As writers, we're often exhorted to fashion our prose to keep the reader turning pages, and, really, what writer would not want the reader to keep reading?

However, that does not necessarily mean keeping chapters short, as if reading a book, especially YOUR book, was some drudgery the reader must endure in order to please you. If that's the case, then you might want to reevaulate your writing.

Chapters should be exactly as long as they need to be to make your point and to fit your story. Certain works might call for short brisk chapters. Other works might be a mix of long and short chapters. Still other chapters might be very long. However, in all examples, the writing must be tight and to the point.

You might think, "But is that possible in long chapters?" Absolutely! What is worse, a fast-food meal or a poor seven-course feast? You see the point.

If one wishes to keep readers lingering over a long chapter (novel, series, etc.), it must be as well-planned and well-written as a the most exquisite of banquets. 

There is nothing wrong with a fast pleasurable read. But there is also nothing wrong with a layered, complicated, multi-level world-building, the kind that keeps a reader fastened to your story, even if he only reads a page a night, as long as he's satisfied and can't wait to read the next page.

Most of us are familiar with a profound sentence or two that stops us in our tracks and makes us think. Most of us have experienced  that quick refreshing glass of water before rerturning to our tasks.

But we, as readers and writers, also need the long and drawn out and fully developed, that whole, "Pull up a chair before the fire and stay awhile," type of story, the kind that draws us into a world that is so real, we emerge a little dazed for having been there.

Trust me, there are readers who long to immerse themselves in such a book. And they will keep turning pages.

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