When writing for children there are clear guidelines around chapter lengths according to the age of your target audience. No such guidelines exist when writing for adults. Some adult novels will have chapters which are only one sentence long, others will have no chapters at all. So how important is chapter length?
For me, when I write an adult/YA novel, I always aim for 2,000 – 2,500 word per chapter –give or take 500 words. As I get nearer to the end I’m likely to be more flexible as short chapters can speed up the action of your story, while the ‘big reveal’ chapter might be a lot longer so as not to break the flow.
If a chapter says all it needs to say in 500 words, then perhaps one should let it stand alone, instead of attaching it to the next chapter (as I would tend to do)? I wonder if an author like James Patterson (whose chapters tend to run to between 300 and 1,500 words) finds himself cutting a chapter in half just to keep consistent?
I’m actually reading a book at the moment where the chapters are nearly the exact same length. The only reason I noticed this was because the chapter length matches nicely with my daily commute into and out of work. And while I find this very convenient, it makes me wonder if sometimes the story gets a little more padded or cut short to meet the author’s target? More importantly am I guilty of doing the same thing?
I would like to think that a story will always be only as long or short as it needs to be to tell the story, and chapters as long as they need to be to show the scene or section of the story. Maybe authors cannot help but think in terms of sections of a certain length, and subconsciously we edit or embellish accordingly?
I would be really interested to know if any readers have been frustrated by obvious chapter length doctoring, or even if any readers have even been aware of such things? If it were not for the coincidence of my trip length and chapter length of the book I am reading now, I would never have suspected anything other than inspiration dictating the length of the chapters in the novel.