Let’s talk about chapters, baby.

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 SamaritanWelcome 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.

The lovely, lovely books of John Marrs. Most excellent and splendid books indeed.

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.

The book that started my love affair with Shaun Hutson back in the ’80s. He is also partly responsible for my love of Heavy Metal music. I have a lot to thank him for.

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.

IMG_20180224_182257_01.jpg
A selection of the above mentioned author’s books – lovingly arranged upon my bedroom floor, complete with sock fluff and fallen beard hairs. I think a future as a bookstagrammer is a little ways off yet.
Steph Broadribb1
Totally unnecessary photo of Steph Broadribb, just because. What? It’s my blog, so shush!

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.

My beard twin: Cheers to you too, Sir Terry.  Thank you for everything. Your legend will last beyond all our lifetimes. X

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

40 Comments on “Let’s talk about chapters, baby.

  1. (Take two. Bite me, internet 😉)

    I’d never let the length of a chapter dictate my decision to buy a book. Being in Belgium, I mostly buy my books online and never even pay attention to the amount of pages a book has, never mind chapter length. If a book says “buy me”, then I listen. Shorter chapters do indeed mean you get that feeling of squeezing in just one more before bedtime or whatever but I’m pretty sure a 400 page book with short chapters takes me just as long to read as one with long chapters. Maybe I should test that some time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post. I too was a Shaun Hutson reader in my younger days, but must confess to not reading any new ones since the mid 90’s, which I defo have to sort out. I’m also a huge Pratchett fan, and had never realised he didn’t do chapters (which is pretty scary given I’ve read most of them). Can’t ever imagine choosing a book based on the length of it’s chapters, though I probably prefer short snappy ones and seem to get through those books quicker. And yes, blogging and twitter should carry a “will drastically affect your book reading stats” warning!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. I lost touch week SH around the same time. No idea why really. One of the authors who got away when kids arrived. I guess TP did write chapters, but just not numbered ones (just checked the two Tiffany Aching books I have on my shelf and there are chapters there, but his adult Discworld books didn’t.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ah, the Nac Mac Feegle! Possibly some of the best characters ever written. I listened to a few of TP’s books last year in Audiobook format and they were so well done. Totally brought the characters to life.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I wouldn’t buy a book based on chapter length but I do agree that I fly through books with shorter chapters quicker, I also can’t take a break until I’ve finished a chapter and find it very irritating if I have to stop before I finish it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I absolutely adore this post! While chapter length probably won’t stop me from buying a book, it definitely impacts how quickly I read a book. I’m just like you with constantly trying to squeeze in another chapter before I have to do some mundane errand! If the chapters are short, I also tend to stay up way past my bedtime because I’m confident “just one more” won’t take long and before I know it 30 minutes has gone by! The One by John Marrs is a brilliant example! As you know, I adored that book and it’s short chapters certainly had me hitting the coffee extra hard in the mornings!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for making me laugh! Completely agree on the greatness of John Marrs books, I have read The One and When You Disappeared… Have The Good Samaritan ready to go!
    and I have to admit, I have thoroughly enjoyed the short chapters- with so many other things jn life to do other than reading (gasp) I love that I can squeeze a quick chapter in here and there!
    I do love longer chapters as well but I love them more when I know I can just spend a whole pile of time committed to the book! either way, a good book is a good book and depending on the genre, the chapter length can either just be something I don’t even notice and when I do, the chapter length really works in making the story alk the more suspenseful! Great post! glad to have stumbled across the blog 👌

    Liked by 1 person

    • Awwh, thank you for those wonderful words. That’s made me very happy 😊 I totally agree with the longer chapter/commitment thing. A book such as The Stand, for instance, is one you need to totally immerse yourself into. You look up from the book blinking into the light wondering where you are 😂 I’ve still to read JM’s Welcome To Wherever You Are. I just can’t bring myself to as it’s the last one I have until his new one 🤣

      Liked by 1 person

      • The Stand… I have promised myself to read The Stand for 2-3 years now 😀 and every time I’m like- right, roll up the sleeves ande go for it- I just open the book and think, darn it, I am not ready for this XD one day, though… one day I will conquer The Stand!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Haaahaha, it is a very daunting book, but it’s so worth it. I remember reading the ‘complete and uncut’ (it added about 400 pages or something), edition when it came out in 4 days, but that was about 30 years ago and I had a few days off work, I think 😂 A great book. I hope you muster the courage one day 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • ah maaannn… I have that complete,uncut copy… right, I can definitely stop thinking about the book until I take out some annual leave, so! 😀 bahaha… Thanks for the encouragement 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think that that edition has become the standard one now. Not sure, but it’s still one hefty bugger 😅 Have you read Joe Hill’s The Fireman? That’s kind of his own version, but shorter and less intimidating 😋 No less excellent though.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I grew up reading Discworld novels, so I think Pratchett trained me out of caring about chapters. I do tend to try and finish out a scene when I can, though.

    Like

  7. Great post! Thoroughly enjoyed reading it! I do prefer shorter chapters, like you, I feel the need to get to a point that I’m happy to put the book down. An end of paragraph doesn’t quite do it for me. My OH is a Pratchett fan and is used to his lack of chapters, but that really puts me off reading his stuff, even though I’d like to!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m having trouble with the whole Lee Child thing — how do I take the rest of your stuff seriously after that admission? (this, however, should be taken with a grain of salt — only started reading Rankin in ’17).

    Still, love the post. Keep up the good work!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, as in that I haven’t read any yet? I know, it’s almost a criminal offence, but I will get around to it, I promise 😉 (pssst, I haven’t read any Rankin either…..I’ll get me coat.)

      Like

  9. I don’t really mind long chapters, or short ones. I’m also known to put down a book mid chapter, or mid sentence, like a true savage. 😂
    On kindle it’s easier to know if i have time to finish a chapter or not, but with hard copies i often have no idea.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: Bloggers Bash…ing. It’s been a funny old week. – The Beardy Book Blogger

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