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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12 thoughts on “How Long Should Your Chapters Be?”
Dang! You’re experienced! This is really good advice 🙂
Great post Ronovan. This is something that I always have problems with. You know that old adage – less is more. Yeah well how do you write less and still keep in those nuances you mention. Some chapters seem easier than others. I always use word count rather than pages. As a rule I’ve tried to keep chapter to around 2,500 words which means that I’m usually trying to find ways to shorten what I write. As an example I’ve just written another chapter for my book and it is around 4,300 words (21 pages). I’m sure I can trim it, but not by much if I want to keep the suspense and the mystery. Seems to be an ongoing battle. I wonder what others think. Thanks for your advice!
I am an advocate of the less is more and less word count, but the varied chapter lengths keeps the reader on their toes. If you have a chapter that’s long and it tells you it needs to be long then listen to it. Yes, if there is just fluff and filler the off with its head, but if you’re feeling it then leave it. Cover up that word count until after the story is written.
I must be honest. I like reading books that have chapters of similar lengths, because then I can break up my reading session into chapters and not worry about having to read for too long or ending the session abruptly (I prefer reading a number of chapters at a time!) When writing, I also subconsciously do this to make everything feel more uniform. But that isn’t strict – if a chapter needs to be long, then it will be long.
Cool. Personally, I am a fan of short chapters. It lets me as a reader know I can engage into a reading and know I have a end in sight. You know like if it’s right at bed time and you want to read a chapter then you know you can get one in, kind of like watching a TV episode before bed. But the story pretty much tells you the length. So looks like we agree! 😀
Yeah, that’s exactly how I like it! 😀
But shhhh . . . don’t tell anyone my opinion.
Thanks for this advice. It confirms what I’ve always thought. I like to think my best writing happens when I listen.
Reblogged this on Musings by Melanie Dawnn and commented:
This is a good guide on chapter length. Some authors that I have read will have 30+ chapters, but they are short. Others maybe 12-14, but many pages. I admit that with the latter, there have been some booksI’be read that should have broken up some chapters. I found myself feeling like I’d never get to the end or the point of the chapter. Not a good thing an author wants to hear from a reader.
I agree with you.
Shorter is the word.
English has aways favoured shorter sentences, compared to other European languages, but now I’d say even moreso. One word sentences are vert effective. Varying sentence length is a must, too.
I read (and reread) a lot of 19th century, which I love, but I (aim to) write in this ‘leaner’ and ‘clipped’ style, because it’s what contemporary readers prefer, and so do I, when I read contemporary fiction.
I’d say living and writing in a digital age has a great deal to do with this shift in writing style.
Thought provoking post. Thank you.
Thank you! As always, from you, that is a great compliment.
I like to write in scenes, and I don’t like the scenes too drawn out. But if the scene has to be long then so be it. Just not all the time. I like the varied sentence lengths because it ends up being like riding on a slab paved road if you have the sentences the same lengths. You keep hitting the seam, the same rhythm and it becomes slowly monotonous. Just let the story do its job and get out of the way. 🙂