Chapters have been getting shorter over the years in certain kinds of books as the pacing of those books has quickened. Moralist fogeys like to point at this and say KIDS THESE DAYS and mumble about leisure and lack of appreciation. But the actual research done by scientists who aren't just fogeys railing at imagined slacker teens slackity slacking at the library suggests that today's youth are simply better readers and enjoy more complex plots, more things happening. Much like the pacing in tv shows or movies, a greater degree of sophistication in the viewer leads to a denser, faster experience.
David Farland’s Daily Kick in the Pants—How Long Is a Chapter?
Over the past few years, the standard length of chapters has been shrinking in many genres. If you picked up a novel thirty years ago, twenty manuscript pages seemed to be pretty standard. If you picked up a thriller five years ago, ten pages would do. Now, for most thrillers and young adult novels, eight pages seems to be more normal.
In fact, if you look at James Patterson’s Maximum Ride, I don’t see any chapters that are over about four pages.
Now, I understand why this was done. Patterson recognized that young readers who watch television and play videogames are taught to take their stories in “bites.” Just as television and radio hosts want you to speak in pithy “sound bites,” modern audiences are looking for the same experience in their stories.
There used to be a time—a hundred years ago--when books were considered a “relaxing” medium. Thus, the opening of a story could take many pages before you reached the “inciting incident,” that moment when a major conflict was introduced and the story took off. When I read Lord of the Rings as a teen, I was a bit troubled by the fact that it took some 92 pages before I felt that the story took off.
You can see the same pattern in many novels written back in the 19th century. It wasn’t a weakness in storytelling, by the way, it was just the fashion of that time. In a day when people were less traveled than now, the author was expected to take some time creating the world, introducing the characters, and so on.
Modern audiences, though, tend to demand instant gratification.
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