If there has always been one thing I have had an issue with while writing, it’s the chapter length in terms of number of pages. To me, chapters represent various minor scenes in the story that are collated together in a logical way. I say “to me”, since I have read many novels in my life that seem to follow their own system of chapter establishment, or even none at all.
I’m a bit obsessive when it comes to making sure my chapters are a certain length. This seems to stem from several factors. Firstly, from my school days where we were restricted to writing essays of a certain length. I always used to get into trouble for letting my stories carry me away way over the set word length.Even with practice, it was hard to maintain it. I’m so glad Twitter was developed, since this seems to be helping me with this ability.
The second reason evolved from writing the Celenic Earth Chronicles. I never really received any feedback on chapters that were too long, but working through the novels I often wondered how readers felt about the 20 page chapters that were frequently found in “The Windfarer” and “The DragonRider”. It is one of the reasons that I increased the standard 3-part division in these novels to the 5-part division found in “The Sadgi” so that I can decrease the standard chapter lengths to 10 pages and thereby maintain the 500-page novel length of the series. Luckily, it tied in with the 5 relics Shadowolf needed to obtain in order to battle the dark lord Le’Mar, so that gave the idea for the Part names for the final novel.
My obsession is therefore very much a deciding factor when it comes to several matters involved in writing my novels. A third reason I can provide is due to the books I am currently reading where the authors have created chapters with 30 – 50 pages long. Don’t get me wrong, this does not detract me from reading them. It’s just, when I am having a reading session, I generally like to end it by completing the chapter I am on. This is not always possible if I am in the middle of a very long chapter and then have to accept ending in the middle of it. I can’t tell my wife or kids “Hold on, let me just finish this chapter”; I just hope there is a paragraph break soon.
“Silent Hill: Betrayal” has not suffered much from this obsession luckily, except that I am still trying not to make chapter lengths too long. Act 1 was intended to have ten chapters each of approximately ten pages each. There has been some give and take, where some chapters have been shorter and therefore making allowance for longer ones in the future. Near the end of the Act I was clocking in 15 pages for the last 3 chapters, and where I saw that it was growing longer than that I needed to make a choice: either I cut on the quality of the story and take out some parts or I split the chapter into two. Fortunately for my readers, I opted for the latter since I would hate to take anything out at this point. I already feel like there should be more detail in some places, so removing is just not am option at this point.And an extra few chapters per Act won’t kill me (or you).
Having said all that, I ended up with the Act still ending roughly at the page number I needed. I am truly trying not to make this novel another epic 500 page book (which I am reserving strictly for my epic fantasy novels). This is why I have come up with a new idea. This may not make sense to those not familiar with the Silent Hill franchise (or RPG games in general), but I have every intention of including a visual glossary of all items, maps, weapons and creatures in book form. Originally I had intended to have this as annexures in the novel (as with the Celenic Earth Chronicles), but then you are looking at a book that will be way too large. So in true gaming fashion, I have decided to have this printed and sold as a companion to the novel. This has the added benefit of saving anyone who is not interested in the extras from having to sit with an unnecessarily huge volume. It also has the benefit of having a compendium beside you that you can refer to, instead of going to the back of the book the whole time.
Returning to the moral of the story: will this obsession with page numbers and chapter length haunt me through all my novels? I’m not so sure this is a bad thing, and is good for planning. If I gave myself free reign, i would probably end up with a 1000-page volume. So this level of constraint is called for.
For those who know me well though, I have an issue with ‘obsession’ in the sense that I dislike any form of it intensely. If I find myself forming a pattern or routine, I try to get myself out of it (although I should probably just focus on bad obsessions).
So when I work on my Terry Pratchett / Robert Rankin inspired Comedy Fantasy next year, I will be letting loose and just writing. You may even find 2-page chapters like in some Rankin novels, or hell, I might even go with no chapters like Pratchett. Who knows, but I do know that I will be trying something new for some fresh flavour before returning to my self-induced obsessive chapter establishment on other novels…
There may be hope for me yet.
In love and grace
The Count of Celenic Earth