Variety is King – Chapter and Sentence Length


I’ve almost finished up my refresh of the outline for The Word and the biggest thing I’ve noticed is the number of chapters in it.

Oranje had 45 chapters (including progress), each of pretty much 2,500 words. The first outline of the word had 57 and from first draft work the chapters were turning out around the same number of words.

This outline has 32.

There’s the same amount of stuff going on in the story, probably even a bit more than the previous outline. The biggest change is I’m trying to break away from such consistent chapter sizes. It’s often something I see talked about on writing forums, people often worried about how long a chapter should be and people saying the length they aim for.

I find that really dangerous advice.

Equally sized chapters are boring and can slow down stories. Well not just on their own but if each scene is playing out over the same number of words there is an inevitable amount of consistency to the pacing.

Letting chapters be as big or as small as they need to be will help let the individual scenes thrive. There can be fast paced action ones that aren’t too long, and slower more dialog based ones where the reader can take a break and absorb the characters and story.

Now this has to be done in conjunction with other tools. You can have long but fast paced scenes and short but calming ones. But when you combine the length of each scene with the amount of information/action that happens in it, alongside that other great pacing tool of sentence length, you have more levers to control your story.

I could write a bit about sentence structure myself, but I won’t as there is a fantastic example that already exists from Gary Provost:

This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.

Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length.

And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbal-sounds that say listen to this, it is important.

Chapter and sentence length and tools and weapons in the writers armoury to add variety and better control the pace and flow of their work.

It’s something I am to make better use of myself with The Word. We’ll see – as always – how it turns out.