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Author Topic: Scene & Chapter Length  (Read 8405 times)

Offline Raptori

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Scene & Chapter Length
« on: March 16, 2015, 05:22:46 PM »
According to google, for most writers a scene averages anything from 1000 to 3000 words (and can obviously range far beyond those numbers if necessary). Obviously certain types of scene will typically be longer than others, and it'll vary depending on the type of book you're writing, but it's worth thinking about anyway.

We haven't really written enough to know what comes naturally to us, so that makes it pretty difficult to plan a novel out scene by scene - and not planning it out like that just doesn't make sense to either of us. Based on those numbers a 100,000 word novel could be anything between 100 and 33 scenes, which means we have a slight problem at the moment. It looks like we're going to have to write at least a few chapters before we can know for sure how much needs to happen overall.  :(

What scene and chapter lengths do you usually aim for/end up with? And what do you think works best?
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Offline Henry Dale

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Re: Scene & Chapter Length
« Reply #1 on: March 16, 2015, 05:51:45 PM »
Chapter length 6-10 pages (standard A4)
Scene length...Utter chaos.  :P

Personally I think it's only something to worry about when you're well into your novel/book/writing piece...
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Re: Scene & Chapter Length
« Reply #2 on: March 16, 2015, 06:05:12 PM »
I've seen two schools of chapterizing:
> One per scene or narrative thread; brief, pithy
> One per set of related scenes

Most readers accept either, but some seem to dislike the one-per-scene.

I go back to Jim Butcher, who describes scenes and "sequels". In scenes, the action is moved forward with rising conflict. In sequels, characters react to the prior scene and make decisions that lead to the next scenes. Like scenes, these can be extremely short or... not. But I like what he has to say about them.  I offer this because it may influence how you think about length and using scene count to estimate.

I'm finding that I had to write 10,000 words to figure out some key things, then went back and planed. Next, re-write 10,000 words, and maybe I'll be ready for a really strong outline. But one things is clear, that first 10,000 barely moved the story. I think that means I need to be tighter in the writing; not that I need to expect a 150,000 word story.
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Offline Yora

Re: Scene & Chapter Length
« Reply #3 on: March 16, 2015, 06:07:50 PM »
I think you're approaching it from the wrong direction. A story is as long as it takes to tell all the important things. Adding unnecessary scenes to inflate the word count generally reduces the quality of the stroy rather than improving it.

Offline Raptori

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Re: Scene & Chapter Length
« Reply #4 on: March 16, 2015, 06:17:40 PM »
Chapter length 6-10 pages (standard A4)
Scene length...Utter chaos.  :P

Personally I think it's only something to worry about when you're well into your novel/book/writing piece...
Good story comes first, lay-out later ^^
We have what we feel is a good story, we just need to work out whether we need to cut things back. It definitely wouldn't work as a series, but there's every chance that the current shape of it would be way too long for a novel  :-\

I've seen two schools of chapterizing:
> One per scene or narrative thread; brief, pithy
> One per set of related scenes

Most readers accept either, but some seem to dislike the one-per-scene.

I go back to Jim Butcher, who describes scenes and "sequels". In scenes, the action is moved forward with rising conflict. In sequels, characters react to the prior scene and make decisions that lead to the next scenes. Like scenes, these can be extremely short or... not. But I like what he has to say about them.  I offer this because it may influence how you think about length and using scene count to estimate.

I'm finding that I had to write 10,000 words to figure out some key things, then went back and planed. Next, re-write 10,000 words, and maybe I'll be ready for a really strong outline. But one things is clear, that first 10,000 barely moved the story. I think that means I need to be tighter in the writing; not that I need to expect a 150,000 word story.
I generally dislike the one-per-scene. Just doesn't feel right for some reason  ???

Yeah I've read a bit about the scenes and sequels concept, think it makes a lot of sense. I also like the "Motivation-Reaction Unit" thing for the sub-scene scale structure, which structures the sub-sections of the scene in a way that mirrors how we experience real life :)

I think you're approaching it from the wrong direction. A story is as long as it takes to tell all the important things. Adding unnecessary scenes to inflate the word count generally reduces the quality of the stroy rather than improving it.
Nah, we're the antithesis of a discovery writer. We have our story, the problem isn't that it could be too short, it's that it could be way too long. And we don't really want to write 150,000 words and then find we need to cull half of it because we're only half-way through the story. That just seems like madness  ;D
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Offline Yora

Re: Scene & Chapter Length
« Reply #5 on: March 16, 2015, 06:37:11 PM »
But too long or too short depends on the story. If there should be more scenes or some scenes removed depends on whether some things were left under-developed or underexplored, or some scenes are unnecessary and dragging on.
You can look at your outline and search for scenes that don't really serve much of a purpose and for things that might need more exploration, but it's not a function of word count.
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Offline Raptori

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Re: Scene & Chapter Length
« Reply #6 on: March 16, 2015, 07:25:21 PM »
But too long or too short depends on the story. If there should be more scenes or some scenes removed depends on whether some things were left under-developed or underexplored, or some scenes are unnecessary and dragging on.
You can look at your outline and search for scenes that don't really serve much of a purpose and for things that might need more exploration, but it's not a function of word count.
This is quickly becoming a planning vs discovery writing discussion, which should be a completely different thread. I get the feeling we're in a very small minority. What works for you probably won't work for us  :P

Just to make it clear, we're not using word count as the primary means of working out what needs to go in the story. It's one thing that it makes sense to consider at this point, because we want to write a novel of roughly 90-120k words rather than a 300k doorstopper that would be completely unpublishable as a debut novel. Sure that's thinking ahead of ourselves, but why not aim for what you want to achieve right from the beginning?

While we're outlining we can adjust the scope of the story very easily, saving us from writing tens of thousands of words before realising we need to increase/decrease the focus on certain things. We can also decide whether to add some subplots or adjust the plot so they're unnecessary. The projected word count could help with those kind of decisions.

At the moment the outline is very focused on the protagonist (no multiple viewpoints even though there are several characters involved who could have a story to tell). She has three major objectives she is working towards consciously, all three of which need equal development and provide equal amounts of tension, conflict and progression, and all three of which intersect and come into play at the end of the story. Depending on the expected word count for each scene, those objectives alone could make the novel anywhere from 80k to 300k words long. There are also some potential sub-plots that could add more depth to the story if it turns out it's shorter than it appears to be in the outline, which could require small adjustments to the main plot if we were to include them.

This is how we've always worked on creative projects, it's just how we both think. We'd rather know we're making a mistake now than find out a few dozen hours worth of work (or more) from now.



...so anyway, actually answering the question would be more helpful! If you'd like, we can continue that discussion elsewhere  :D
« Last Edit: March 16, 2015, 07:32:39 PM by Raptori »
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Offline Ryan Mueller

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Re: Scene & Chapter Length
« Reply #7 on: March 16, 2015, 07:59:46 PM »
I don't even really pay attention to scenes as I write. I just write the story. When I look at it later, I discover that I've written in scenes without thinking about it. The length of a scene varies considerably. It's however long it needs to be. As for chapters, I end them when it feels right. This is something you should get a feel for from reading and deciding what you like in your reading.

Offline Raptori

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Re: Scene & Chapter Length
« Reply #8 on: March 16, 2015, 08:04:35 PM »
I don't even really pay attention to scenes as I write. I just write the story. When I look at it later, I discover that I've written in scenes without thinking about it. The length of a scene varies considerably. It's however long it needs to be. As for chapters, I end them when it feels right. This is something you should get a feel for from reading and deciding what you like in your reading.
Yeah we sort of have the same thing, just without actually writing it all out - we run through the story either by talking it through together or just reading the outline/thinking about it.  :)
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Offline cupiscent

Re: Scene & Chapter Length
« Reply #9 on: March 17, 2015, 03:59:31 AM »
Coming to the end of first-pass revisions as I am, I've been thinking a lot about scene structure, integrity and definition. What's been key for me in this bout of revisions is having a clear summary for the scene. Susan Dennard has some great advice that really helped me here, suggesting that you should be able to state a scene summary/purpose in one sentence (or maaaaybe two) including the protag of the scene, their goal, the conflict that arises, and any antagonist in that conflict. What she suggests - and what I found to be the case - is that if I don't manage to hit three of those four categories, I don't really have a scene, I have a fragment. And if I have double-ups or need too many sentences to summarise the scene, it's really two or even three scenes. Which is fine! But it's going to be stronger if I deal with them sequentially rather than simultaneously.

What this works out to, in brass tacks and for me personally, is usually scenes between about 700 and 1500 words in length. (Note that I don't always have a "scene break" between scenes; sometimes the action flows naturally from one to the next. For instance, when my protag chases someone across the rooftops of the city, then interrogates them, that might be two scenes that flow naturally together.) I had done my planning with four scenes to a chapter, but that isn't working right for the flow all the way through, so I'm going to recut that according to what makes story-flow sense.

Note again: this is what I'm doing for revisions. I already have the story in front of me, now it's just making sure it is arranged best. While I did do scene-by-scene planning for my NaNoWriMo novel last year, I probably wouldn't recommend trying that until you've written a novel or two and have a good sense of how story beats hang together in your writing flow.

Offline Skip

Re: Scene & Chapter Length
« Reply #10 on: March 17, 2015, 04:20:14 AM »
Since that's the way you work, why not just pick a number? One that's in the "usual" range, of course. But you're trying to get a sense of scope and that's fine. Pick 2000 words for a scene, or 5000 words for a chapter, whatever numbers you please, then toss those into your outline mill and see what you get. If it turns out to be 400k, then that tells you something, right?

It sounds to me that the issue isn't really the word count, it's the scene count. You know your story. How many scenes will it take to tell it?

I had a somewhat similar problem. I knew my core story, but I knew there were a dozen different ways to tell it, half a dozen different places to begin, and at least three different main characters. Different choices implied different lengths.

I eventually gave up on the calculus and just wrote. The overall length is rather long for my taste--it's looking like around 150k to 180k--but I'm taking heart in the conventional wisdom that rewrites tend to shorten novels rather than lengthen them, so I'm hoping I get to an agent-ready draft down around 120k.

Once it's all done, I'll count up the scenes and chapters to see how close I came to Usual Practice, just for the exercise.
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Offline Doctor_Chill

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Re: Scene & Chapter Length
« Reply #11 on: March 17, 2015, 04:57:09 AM »
I can honestly say I've never thought about the length of a scene. Perhaps a chapter, but for me, like Yora said, a chapter is as long as it needs to be. A scene should be the same. If that means I have a five page chapter sitting next to a fifteen page chapter, so be it.

As for plotting, well, I would highly advocate a few words strung together in an outline for each chapter. Know your ending beforehand (which I assume you already do by the way you've explained yourself), and that should help establish how long your book will span.

Quote
I had a somewhat similar problem. I knew my core story, but I knew there were a dozen different ways to tell it, half a dozen different places to begin, and at least three different main characters. Different choices implied different lengths.

I guess I'm different in that I know exactly how I'm going to get from point A to point B and what will happen at point B, no questions asked. It's in the little details that I struggle, especially in accordance with voice and minuscule characterization, coming from the close 1st person.

Quote
We can also decide whether to add some subplots or adjust the plot so they're unnecessary.

....

There are also some potential sub-plots that could add more depth to the story if it turns out it's shorter than it appears to be in the outline, which could require small adjustments to the main plot if we were to include them.

I know you said you're different from most of the crowd, in that you want to fix mistakes before they happen. That's all fine and dandy, and quite frankly I pretend to have the same mindset sometimes, but speaking from experience, get an outline down and WRITE.

Quote
And we don't really want to write 150,000 words and then find we need to cull half of it because we're only half-way through the story. That just seems like madness

Hell yeah it is. On my second pass, I cut an entire second-half sub-plot out and reworked a new one in there, fleshed out scenes, and understood what I wanted so much better.

Trust me when I say you can fret over these ideas much easier when you have a tangible idea on paper. I threw out an entire novel halfway finished because I worried over details like this, and they ended up exploding. It sounds like I didn't care, but quite the opposite. I knew what I wanted and knew that I needed to get things concrete before I could see the full picture. If that takes you 300K words, so be it. Practice is practice, and writing is probably futile anyway. ;)
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Offline Raptori

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Re: Scene & Chapter Length
« Reply #12 on: March 17, 2015, 06:07:54 AM »
Coming to the end of first-pass revisions as I am, I've been thinking a lot about scene structure, integrity and definition. What's been key for me in this bout of revisions is having a clear summary for the scene. Susan Dennard has some great advice that really helped me here, suggesting that you should be able to state a scene summary/purpose in one sentence (or maaaaybe two) including the protag of the scene, their goal, the conflict that arises, and any antagonist in that conflict. What she suggests - and what I found to be the case - is that if I don't manage to hit three of those four categories, I don't really have a scene, I have a fragment. And if I have double-ups or need too many sentences to summarise the scene, it's really two or even three scenes. Which is fine! But it's going to be stronger if I deal with them sequentially rather than simultaneously.

What this works out to, in brass tacks and for me personally, is usually scenes between about 700 and 1500 words in length. (Note that I don't always have a "scene break" between scenes; sometimes the action flows naturally from one to the next. For instance, when my protag chases someone across the rooftops of the city, then interrogates them, that might be two scenes that flow naturally together.) I had done my planning with four scenes to a chapter, but that isn't working right for the flow all the way through, so I'm going to recut that according to what makes story-flow sense.

Note again: this is what I'm doing for revisions. I already have the story in front of me, now it's just making sure it is arranged best. While I did do scene-by-scene planning for my NaNoWriMo novel last year, I probably wouldn't recommend trying that until you've written a novel or two and have a good sense of how story beats hang together in your writing flow.
Yep, we've been thinking about all that (and noting down a few places where we can put in some key backstory/worldbuilding/foreshadowing/etc). Hopefully our scene lengths come out at that kind of range, that'd mean our current outline fits perfectly with what we want. :)





Since that's the way you work, why not just pick a number? One that's in the "usual" range, of course. But you're trying to get a sense of scope and that's fine. Pick 2000 words for a scene, or 5000 words for a chapter, whatever numbers you please, then toss those into your outline mill and see what you get. If it turns out to be 400k, then that tells you something, right?

It sounds to me that the issue isn't really the word count, it's the scene count. You know your story. How many scenes will it take to tell it?
Yep, that was the general idea behind asking the question - at the moment (with only a couple of try/fail cycles per objective) it's roughly 100 scenes, so 1000 word scenes would hit the target perfectly. 1000 words sounds extremely short to me, so I wondered whether that was a particularly common length and found conflicting advice via google. People here like to answer the questions they feel the person should be asking it seems!  :P

I had a somewhat similar problem. I knew my core story, but I knew there were a dozen different ways to tell it, half a dozen different places to begin, and at least three different main characters. Different choices implied different lengths.

I eventually gave up on the calculus and just wrote. The overall length is rather long for my taste--it's looking like around 150k to 180k--but I'm taking heart in the conventional wisdom that rewrites tend to shorten novels rather than lengthen them, so I'm hoping I get to an agent-ready draft down around 120k.

Once it's all done, I'll count up the scenes and chapters to see how close I came to Usual Practice, just for the exercise.
Yeah that's more or less where we're at right now: we're happy with the detailed outline for the core story, but can't really fine tune it without knowing this kind of thing. We're used to being able to do that kind of fine-tuning for large projects while they're still on the drawing board, since we have to get things right the first time.  Started writing yesterday, the opening scene is over 1000 words long so far and only half finished...  ???





I can honestly say I've never thought about the length of a scene. Perhaps a chapter, but for me, like Yora said, a chapter is as long as it needs to be. A scene should be the same. If that means I have a five page chapter sitting next to a fifteen page chapter, so be it.

As for plotting, well, I would highly advocate a few words strung together in an outline for each chapter. Know your ending beforehand (which I assume you already do by the way you've explained yourself), and that should help establish how long your book will span.
I've never thought about it before, hence the question! We skipped outlining per chapter actually... at the moment we've got a two-page overview and then a beat sheet. Chapter-by-chapter could solve the problem  ;)

Quote
We can also decide whether to add some subplots or adjust the plot so they're unnecessary.

....

There are also some potential sub-plots that could add more depth to the story if it turns out it's shorter than it appears to be in the outline, which could require small adjustments to the main plot if we were to include them.

I know you said you're different from most of the crowd, in that you want to fix mistakes before they happen. That's all fine and dandy, and quite frankly I pretend to have the same mindset sometimes, but speaking from experience, get an outline down and WRITE.
Lol this advice reminds me of our college tutor, he always stressed that we always sat there planning instead of working on our projects... never failed to prove him wrong in the end  :P But yeah, as I said above we've gone ahead and started. Hopefully we won't have to adjust the outline after a few chapters  :'(

Quote
And we don't really want to write 150,000 words and then find we need to cull half of it because we're only half-way through the story. That just seems like madness

Hell yeah it is. On my second pass, I cut an entire second-half sub-plot out and reworked a new one in there, fleshed out scenes, and understood what I wanted so much better.

Trust me when I say you can fret over these ideas much easier when you have a tangible idea on paper. I threw out an entire novel halfway finished because I worried over details like this, and they ended up exploding. It sounds like I didn't care, but quite the opposite. I knew what I wanted and knew that I needed to get things concrete before I could see the full picture. If that takes you 300K words, so be it. Practice is practice, and writing is probably futile anyway. ;)
Ahh, but you see - we have tangible ideas on paper, in the form of a couple of sentences to a paragraph per scene!  :D
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Offline jefGoelz

Re: Scene & Chapter Length
« Reply #13 on: March 18, 2015, 02:10:55 AM »
most scenes: 250 to 3000 words
most chapters 1500 to 7500 words.

some longer for each.

Offline Skip

Re: Scene & Chapter Length
« Reply #14 on: March 18, 2015, 05:15:31 AM »
Contrary to what some have said here, I do think chapter length matters. I'm less sure about scene length, so I'll ignore that one.

If chapters 1, 2, 3 and on up to 10 are all about the same length, then I'm expecting 11 to follow suit. It can, of course, be dramatically shorter or longer, but that's the expectation. Sometimes using a shorter chapter can be done deliberately for effect, and I'm fine with that.

But if chapter 1 is a thousand words and chapter 2 is five thousand and chapter 3 is two thousand and chapter 4 is eleven thousand and chapter 5 is eight hundred, and so on, then the book becomes jerky. I'll almost guarantee the pacing within chapters will likewise not be smooth.

So, chapter length *does* matter. It's not something the author can get away with not caring about. (hey, two phrases ending in prepositions in the same sentence; achievement!)