I recently picked up James Patterson’s 2002 novel, Four Blind Mice. I must confess I have some structural issues with it, but I won’t go into those here. What I do want to discuss is why a 383 page book has 115 chapters!
Here’s my theory: When publishers pick up a new author, they prefer a fairly short novel, say 70-80 thousand words. Why spend extra money on paper, printing, shipping, etc. if the new guy might not sell? If the author does take off, the publisher then wants a book with a spine so large the author’s name is visible from outer space.
So how is a successful writer to give his publisher these massive spines, hogging the bookshelf space like an invasive weed and dominating the readers’ awareness?
One way is to write longer. Stephen King’s first published novel, Carrie, appeared in 1973 at a svelt 304 pages. His first book under the pseudonym Richard Bachmann, Rage, was published in 1977, a scant 204 pages in length.
The Stand, re-issued in 1990, lumbered in at 1,472 bulging pages. I think reading it caused my bilateral hernias.
James Patterson has evidently taken a different approach. Why spend all that extra time working: just break the novel into new chapters every couple of paragraphs. Let me illustrate with an excerpt from Four Blind Mice:
I was on the front porch of a brick-and-clapboard house, talking to a woman in her late thirties or early forties, when I saw Sampson come jogging our way. Something was up.
“Alex, come with me!” he called out. “C’mon. I need you right now.”
I caught up with him. “What’s up? What did you find out?”
“Something weird. Maybe a break.”
Now let me ask you: Did that scene warrant a chapter break somewhere? (If you’re wondering, it’s before the sentence “I caught up….”) And not only does Mice have 115 chapters, it’s also broken into six “parts”: Prologue, Parts 1 through 4, and Epilogue.
So, let’s do the math. Each chapter starts halfway down the page and ends (on average) halfway down the page. That means the book has 115 pages of blank space for the breaks. Add another 12 for the different Parts, and we find that the text itself comprises only about 256 pages. This is a mass-market paperback, not the larger trade paperback, and each page has 32 lines. Each line, about 10 words (assuming it’s a full line; Patterson has a lot of dialog). A typical page has about 12 paragraphs, each losing roughly a half line, maybe more. So, a representative page is about 260 words.
That puts this novel at about 67,000 words, total.
Add 12 extra pages at the beginning (reviews, title page, dedication, quotes, etc.), and another 21 pages at the end (excerpts from an upcoming book, About the Author, etc.), and I own a book of 67,000 words that is some 420 pages in length.
Or, more importantly, a full inch in thickness.
Think about that: a novel with 256 pages of text broken into 115 chapters. Fans say it’s for pacing: short, quick-hitting chapters pull you through the book faster. That’s true, if the scenes themselves are fast-paced. But when it’s the entire novel—while the protagonist is wandering through a neighborhood, or just sitting around chatting with his new girlfriend—I find it only irritating.
(By the way: Patterson’s first novel, The Thomas Berryman Number, had no chapter breaks at all!)
Still, I gotta admit: the guy can write, and he has a career most of us can scarcely imagine. And if this does happen to be his way of satisfying his publisher’s desire for shelf dominance, I’ll take it over an author who pads his novel with extraneous wordage.