Recently, authors have asked me
several questions regarding chapters. What is a good word count for a scene?
How many scenes should make up a chapter? When is a chapter considered too
long?
I suspect that the authors who
asked these questions wanted simple answers, but the truth is, the answer lies
within the story itself.
If you are writing a thriller,
the readers will expect quick, rapid-fire action. The author may want to make
his scenes smaller and to place all of the events occurring within a certain
time frame within one chapter. Several quick scenes equal a larger chapter.
In formulaic romance, a guideline
to use would be to give the hero and heroine each a scene in the chapter.
Notice, however, that I very carefully used the word guideline rather than rule. Some factors within a romance might
make it necessary for a scene to have one or maybe even three or four scenes.
Imagine a scene between the hero and heroine where the conflict is very
intense. The scene is probably going to be a little longer than usual, and since
the hero and heroine are together and the scene should be powerful enough to
carry itself, then the one scene will do. Suppose your hero and heroine are in
different places at the same time. In that case, the two scenes per chapter guideline
might apply. But let’s throw in romantic suspense. What happens when the
villain comes into play? If he needs a scene, one of two things might occur: 1)
the villain may have a scene within the chapter or 2) the villain’s scene might
be used as a chapter in itself to add emphasis to his or her villainy.
Another matter to consider with
regard to the length of a scene or a chapter is actually psychological. If an
author has written a riveting scene, the length doesn’t matter. However, let
that scene drag, even the least bit, and the author will lose his audience. A few issues to consider when working on scene and
chapter structure are:
1.     
Does
each scene and chapter have a satisfying beginning, middle, and ending?
2.     
Is
each word used in the scene or chapter necessary?
3.     
Does
a particular scene need emphasis for the reader? In other words, does it need
to stand out? If so, make that scene a chapter in itself.
4.     
Does
each scene move the story forward? In order to determine this, an author must
look at each scene as a building block in his masterpiece. Every scene must lock
the one before it in place. Likewise, each chapter must lock the previous
chapter in place. No meandering allowed.
So when self-editing, work hard
to eliminate anything that is not necessary to the story as a whole. This will help you craft tighter scenes and riveting chapters. Remember to write each scene so
that the reader is left wanting more.
Happy editing.

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