How Long Should Your Chapters Be?
Pick up any two books you have and you’ll likely find they vary in chapter length. Each author has their own style and preference.
To be honest this article isn’t about telling you which length is best. The story itself tells you where the cut off points are for a chapter. Don’t listen to a teacher or whoever about that. Sure an editor can help but when you are writing, get out of the way of the story.
I’ve written chapters 19 pages long and there wasn’t a place to break it up because everything needed to continue in order to flow properly. But then I’ve written chapters three pages long . . . maybe even less.
How do you pick a length? I mean there has to be some idea, right, some method?
As I’ve been writing for over 20 years now, I won’t mention that includes three different decades . . . uh oh, almost four, I’ve discovered methods are like opinions, and to paraphrase an old saying; “Methods are like belly buttons, everyone’s got one.” Okay, so there is another version of that old saying but I went with this one.
Let’s discuss briefly how you would approach determining chapter lengths before you begin writing.
The way I look at it, I would say this, if the action is fast, the short ‘em. If not and perhaps a lot of emotion and all that lovey-dovey stuff, then long ‘em.
The thing is, you’re going to have some of both in a novel. And that is what you really want. Chapter lengths that are uniform throughout a book can lead to boredom. It’s kind of like when you write an essay, or if you write a blog, keep the lengths varied, but not too long.
This doesn’t mean to intentionally alternate between the two, just let the story dictate it. That would be like sing-songing it. Don’t get pitchy dog. Word.
Action-Short Chapters for me. This keeps the pace quick and exciting.
Suspense/Horror-Longer Chapters to bring in all the nuances that you need to pull a person into the scene. Chapters can be shorter once you’ve established character and made the reader comfortable.
Romance and Mystery-It all depends on what you have going on in the scene. Often times you may want to pull at the heartstrings with Romance more so you may need longer chapters at times. A good writer may not need to do it, but don’t short cut it. Mystery has a lot of examination involved thus longer chapters as well.
Ultimately, the story will tell me when to stop a chapter. It almost jumps on you and says STOP! You just have to learn how to listen.
What’s my personal preference? Good question. But the real question is this; What’s your belly button on the chapter length debate? Share.
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