Earlier today I was in my local Waterstone’s perusing the Crime section when I overheard the following exchange (I do not know their names, but if I did I would change them to protect the idiotic):
Teen: I feel like this bookshop wants me to buy Lee Child books. (points to books on the shelf) One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. Ten, Lee Child books.
Dad (I presume. Could’ve been another relative, or, and this is Hatfield, her boyfriend. Or all three): Would you like one of his books?
Teen: But they’re too big. And I think that the chapters will be too long.
Now, this isn’t a post about Lee Child books; I have yet to read one and I’m sure that they’re splendid, but it was the comment about chapter length that got me thinking about writing this (after the urge to shake this child by her shoulders and remonstrate her for her method of choosing a book – more on this point later).
When I read a book I always read a chapter at a time. What I mean is that I can’t just put a book down mid-chapter and resume again later. To me, a chapter is a logical stopping point, should one need a wee-wee. Or a poo-poo. Or just to get on with those annoying things that get in the way of reading a book. You know, like, life and shit. Chapter length can quite often dictate how fast I might read a book, even if it’s an absolute doozy. That ‘one more chapter’ thing, depending on time, state of mind, tiredness, etc, can live or die by the length of the following chapter. But, it would never dictate whether I would actually buy a book or not. If that were the case I would never have read a Stephen King novel. Can you actually imagine that? *shudder*
In many of the most recent books I have read the trend has been towards shorter, snappier chapters. A great example of this are the books of the brilliant John Marrs (@johnmarrs1 on Twitter). You may have read The One; The Good Samaritan; Welcome To Wherever You Are (which I’ve yet to read), or When You Disappeared yourselves, and if you haven’t I strongly, nay, insist that you do. I’ll wait…………………done? Ok, a few minutes longer then…….done now? Good, we shall continue.
Ok, where was I? Oh yes, chapters – the point here is that John writes in short, sharp chapters; the longest barely covering 6 pages in some cases, but he still manages to get all the characterisation, plot, tension and suspense in there and as a result of these that ‘One More Chapter’ effect takes hold very easily and I fly through his books. Waaaay back when I were lad, I loved Shaun Hutson. His books were gory as hell, great fun and, you guessed it, had very short chapters (I lost track of him over time, something I need to put right). I breezed through them like a teenager gets through tissues, only without the resulting crustiness. Usually.
It meant that I could squeeze in a few more chapters whilst I waited for a bus or other form of public transport, such as a tubular train. If I was reading a King at the time then that would’ve been impossible. Perish the very notion.
There are others who are great exponents of the short chapter who I have read recently: Stuart Turton’s The Seven Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle; CJ Skuse’s Sweet Pea; Thomas Enger’s Henning Juul series; Ragnar Jonasson’s Ari Thor series; Steph Broadribb(insert swooning sigh here)’s Lori Anderson books, to name just a few.
But what of the longer chapter, I hear you cry? Or at least I hear something. No idea what that was then, but never mind. Probably tinnitus. Anyhoo, I have nothing whatsoever against the longer chapter. Longer chapters can give the story time to breathe, for the author to delve deeper into the depths of the story/character, but it also means that I can’t just pick up the book for that quick fix for fear of having to stop in the middle. It can also cause me to rush the chapter; to try to finish before I need to go out or whatever, to do whatever, whatever, and in those cases I often end up skimming the words and not really taking them in. I find that I need to plan my reading of those books so I don’t rush anything and as a result I often take a lot longer to read them. It’s a real struggle, innit?
A longer chapter can also make an average, or even mediocre book that much harder to get through. Though it is extremely rare for me to do so, I am more likely to abandon a book of this type than an equivalent one with shorter chapters. Fortunately these books are few and very far between these days. So far….
The late, magnificent, and fellow grey beard, Sir Terry Pratchett had no chapters at all in any of his books that I recall. He broke the story down into a kind of paragraph structure. Some were long, others short. Are there other writers who use this structure? I’m sure that there are, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head.
But seriously: does chapter length inform your reading habits? Does it make you decide whether to buy a book or not – as in are you more likely to buy a book if it has shorter chapters? Do you feel that shorter chapters are less interesting than longer ones? Would you look down on a book for having shorter chapters? Is there a snobbishness abound in the bookworld about chapter length?
Feel free to discuss this in the comments below or on Twitter (@LaughingGravy71 – not a book reference, but a Laurel and Hardy one, for all you L&H fans out there. And if you are a L&H fan, or a Queen fan, then you win my ‘Extra Special Fucking Awesomerist Follower’ badge (design to follow – possibly)).
Until next time.
Peace and Book Love. TBBB X