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  • Writer's pictureG R Matthews

How short is short?

I know I should be writing Book 3, and I am, this is just a little aside to try and tackle a question, or rather a statement, I've seen crop in reviews (of Seven Deaths of an Empire). More than once, which means at least four or five, I've read reviews which either don't like the "short" chapters or love them.

Clearly, I am in the "love them" camp, but it made me question what actually constitutes a "short" chapter? Was I really writing short chapters in the book and what actually constitutes a "good" chapter length? Is there a sweet spot?

So, I polled my fellow fantasy writers on the simple question: On average, in your books, how many words are your chapters?

I set categories using 'WORDS' for a measure - we tend to think in words as we're writing (or at least I do, and seemingly so do many others) - and tallied the votes. The table below shows the results.

Now, I find this interesting. You may not, but it is my post so there you go. I'd expected, my hypothesis if you'll allow, was that the chapters for Seven Deaths would come out shorter than other writer's books because I'd seen those reviews and readers commenting on the "short" chapters - they'd either helped with the pace or not given enough time to get to know the characters.

Can you guess where Seven Deaths fits? No, not in the 5k to 6k category, but in the 3k to 4k. (Corin Hayes books, by the way, which are more thrillers in a SciFi setting would be in that less than 2k slot.)

Which is all lovely, but what does it actually mean? What conclusions can we draw from these figures?

Well, firstly, the chapters aren't short by comparable authors. As Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan pointed out in the poll, Tolkien hits 10k for chapters, but I am not he... nor is anyone else in that poll and we're talking authors like (I'm so name dropping here and so not sorry) Mark Lawrence, Peter McClean, Jen Williams, RJ Barker, Stephen Aryan, Graham Austin-King, and Alicia Wanstall-Burke amongst others.

Secondly, that chapters beyond 4k words are, apart from Tolkien who didn't vote in the poll (clearly too busy <smiles> ), rarer than I suspected and perhaps others did too.

Thirdly, 2k to 4k seems to be the preferred chapter length used by modern fantasy authors.

Fourthly, well, I am sure there is a fourth, fifth and beyond... feel free to add your thoughts below!

Any conclusions actually drawn outside of the data are based on a reader's subjectivity, their reaction to the prose, to the story, plot, twists and characters, and stated near the top they go both ways; some folks loved them, some didn't.

That's writing and reading for you.

OK, I know you were expecting some revelation, some clear insight into the inner workings of a reader's and writer's mind and processes, but it wasn't that. I'm sorry. Have a graph instead - I love a good graph!

And a cat picture because everyone loves cat pictures...

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