When young people read stories in text format, on a mobile phone, their engagement climbs from 20% to 85%. So says online startup, ‘Hooked’, who are trying to build a business around presenting short stories in text format on mobiles.
I do not intend to experiment with text format stories, but some of the other stats presented in the Hooked article did catch my attention: text stories are no longer than 1000 words, paragraphs no longer than 100 characters (that’s about the length of this sentence).
This got me thinking about my own writing.
When I wrote the first draft of Gaia’s Brood, I published it chapter by chapter on Wattpad. I quickly twigged that two-thirds of my readers were viewing it on their smartphones. In response, I started writing specifically for the mobile reader:
I reduced by paragraph length, included lots of dialogue, and reduced my chapters to about 1000 words. I even changed my character point of view to first person present tense, which also increased the need for dialogue (okay, so I know dialogue isn’t text format, but it’s close). I also made the decision to write in colloquialisms (isn’t, it’s etc). Eventually this became my writing voice for the Nina Swift series.
Demands of the ebook
Since then I have extended my chapter length to 2,500 -3,000 words, to meet the demands of ebook readers (pushing each chapter through a seven-point story arc), but the shorter paragraph lengths remain. I have written more extensively about the perils of using first person present tense elsewhere, but basically many traditional readers do not find it a comfortable style in which to read. A few even dismiss it as a tense in which you should never write a novel (I disagree of course), though most do get drawn into the story and style within a few pages, with some even describing it as ‘a uniquely intense narrative style’.
The younger generation have fewer problems with first person present tense than their elders. Perhaps this has something to do with their familiarity with texting and snapchat, which is partly what caught my eye about this article and these stats.
Perhaps I was right all along, perhaps I should return to a 1000 word chapter length. It all comes down to my target audience.
However, my problem is I have two target audiences: young adults who read mostly on mobiles and who like the dystopian aspects of my novels; and more mature readers who like the steampunk aspects and read on ereaders or larger screens.
To satisfy both audiences I am contemplating reducing my scene lengths to about 1000 words, but including two or three scenes in a chapter, each with their own seven-point story arc.
Of course, there is always the argument that a novel doesn’t need chapters at all, but I will save that for another blog.
So, what is your practically perfect paragraph and chapter length? How do you write for the different media used by your readers? I would love to hear your opinions and comments.