Does it matter if chapters are not always the same length? 

by Dale Harcombe

To my mind this is not even a consideration. What is most important is leaving the chapter with a hook that makes the reader want to keep turning the pages to see what happens next. Someone said to me about Streets on a Map, ‘ I thought I’d just read a chapter before I went to sleep, but then you hooked me in and I had to keep reading the next chapter and before I knew it I’d read another few chapters.’

That’s what it was designed to do. To me this is the secret of a good book - one that keeps you turning the pages and it doesn’t matter if the chapter is a page, a few pages or several.

Some authors like James Paterson write very sort chapters and short sentences to keep the plot moving. A lot depends on the author’s individual style and also intended market. So if the book was for young children, then the chapters would usually need to be shorter as well as have that hook to keep reading.

 I also try and leave my character with a problem or something that needs to be worked out or something that will make the reader long to know more. If a book can’t keep me turning the pages then I will stop reading and read something else. Time is too precious to waste reading a book I’m not enjoying. Last I heard we don’t have reading police that say you have to finish every book you start. Because I am this type of reader it no doubt affects the way I write as well, because I’d hate to think someone was so bored they didn’t want to read the next chapter.

The hook is all about setting up anticipation of what is going to happen or could happen. Give just a hint and the reader knows that no matter what the character is planning, it is not always going to work out as they imagine. And isn’t that like life? Sometimes we might think we have life all mapped out and then life throws a us a curve ball, a job loss, a death of someone close to us, an accident, a health issue, an unexpected pregnancy, a move, not to mention natural disasters which we've seen plenty of in our country of late. Then it’s up to us how we handle it. It's no different t for the characters in our novels. Character is revealed by the way people react under pressure and when changes come into their lives.

I’m aware that in Streets on a Map some chapters are very short, others are longer and it doesn't matter a bit. They were designed to have that hook to keep the reader turning pages rather than making sure chapter lengths were about the same. Judging from comments from readers it appears I have succeeded.

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