Creative Writing Tips – Short Chapters

If you want to be read. Write less.

Short chapters are like Pringles — you can’t read just one. As a writer, you can use short chapters to keep your readers turning pages right to the end.

I discovered this recently reading two very different genres. ‘The Quiet Streets of Winslow’ by Judy Troy is a low-key literary whodunit; the second, ‘Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys’ is artist Viv Albertine’s autobiography. What they have in common is snappy chapters.

quiet streetsThe authors deploy the technique differently, reflecting in part the difference between fiction and non-fiction. Judy Troy has multiple narrators and uses short chapters to let them take turns telling pieces of the story. This has several advantages. It avoids point of view confusion, creates suspense, gives each character a distinct space, controls the pace and simplifies transitions.

viv albertineAlbertine arranges her short chapters around anecdotes or themes, creating a literary snapshot of her life. This works because it tells a chronological story without getting bogged down in the empty spaces of ordinary life. In non-fiction, short chapters guard against self-indulgence which builds goodwill with the reader (nobody likes the authorial equivalent of the pub bore rambling on after a few drinks).

Short chapters are not a panacea for poor plotting or characters, but they can make a huge difference if you’re struggling with pacing or point of view. The truth is, few readers have the time or inclination to sit and absorb long, complex chunks of text. If your chapters are like crisps — rich, salty and easy to consume — you’ll never be short of readers!


NB: Viv Albertine is signing copies of her book at Rough Trade in London on 18 Dec.

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2 thoughts on “Creative Writing Tips – Short Chapters

    • School does writers a disservice (well, one of many) in making us produce work of a certain length. All those years of having to write x-number of pages or words pushes us towards puffery. We have to learn for ourselves the art and discipline of “less is more” šŸ™‚

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