Chapter length


Purveyor of Nerdliness
Jun 4, 2012
Follow the blog on twitter: @nerds_feather Like u
Hi All,

So I'd like to initiate a conversation about chapter length. For my WiP, I set an ideal length of 2,500 words (based on things I read online). However, my actual chapters range quite a bit--the shortest is just over 1,000 words and the longest is 3,200. Most seem to be in the 2,000 - 2,600 range.

How much do your chapters range in length? Is a broad range of chapter lengths appropriate or desirable? How do you decide the length of chapters in your books/WiPs?
Hey Nerds. I'd say mine are in around the same range as yours. Some may come in around 3500 but the shortest is probably closer to 2000. I do witch POV within Chapters to keep suspense and tension up, but the way i look at it, we can always edit and change breaks and chapter lengths in editing
It might not be exactly the same but there might be some answers here.

I was going to answer in more detail then figured my first post in the link answers it any way.

I'm trying to cut down chapter sizes in more recent material, and it seems to be about 1,500 - 3,500 words.
To be a bit precise for my first attempt at a novel, I'm coming in with an average of 2,450 words per chapter and a standard deviation of about 1,110. So about 70% of my chapters come in at between 1340-3560 words (ish) :D.

So very like you Nerds!

The reason I do that is (I think) because I trained on writing ~2k short stories when I started writing properly and that I found it to be a nice length for even a few scenes.

Personally I feel, like sentences and paragraphs, there should be a mixture of lengths therefore I'm happy to really push the boat out and put in a big chapter where I think there should be one ('pushing the boat out' for me is 6000+).

It will depend on what is happening in your narrative as well. I seem to write much smaller and tighter 'action' chapters. Usually. And the closer I get to the end the smaller they become.
A chapter can be a paragraph, or an entire book. Really they are major scenes?

* * *​

Sometimes you might have scene changes in a chapter I suppose to artificially keep the chapters similar size or not have chapters only taking up half a page.
I'm at the shorter end of things - about 1500 is normal for me. I'd consider 3000 a monster. :) but I write fairly lean with not a lot of purple so getting a scene to more than 1500 is unusual.
I'm at the shorter end of things - about 1500 is normal for me. I'd consider 3000 a monster. :) but I write fairly lean with not a lot of purple so getting a scene to more than 1500 is unusual.

3000 a monster?

You'd love some of my old style chapters. ;) :D
My chapters are fairly large... I don't have my WIP infront of me at the moment, but I'm thinking around 5k per... And I think I rarely do more than one scene per chapter :eek: this might need to be worked on in future edits!

But I'm playing around with short, snippet scenes instead of chapters in my novella length pieces at the moment, so some come in at 3-400 and the biggest is around 1000 words.

I do kinda like 'one scene is one chapter', like Pat Rothfuss uses. I still remember thinking how much I liked the big chapters, followed by one that is less than a page long.
I'm with Chopper and Sue. I end the chapter where I feel it's appropriate. Word count has nearly zero influence on it. My chapters tend to have multiple scenes to them -- as long as those scenes all deal with the same plot subject.

The opening chapter of my current WIP is 7.7k split into three scenes, but all those words are serving the purpose of introducing the overarching theme of the book, while the second chapter shifts its focus to the shorter, self contained story arc of the book, so if felt appropriate to end the first chapter there before going off on another tangent. It might well be that the second chapter, when I finish it, will be considerably shorter -- or possibly even longer. :eek: I won't know until I've told the story of that chapter.
How do you think of chapters? Commercial breaks in a TV Show? Intermission in a musical?

Someone might read your book on the train, or in bed. The chapter break offers a natural place to pause in your story where they can set the book down. People may look ahead to see how many pages are left until the end of the chapter to encourage them to keep reading.

Having said that. Write the chapter as long as you feel it needs to be. If it seems to short or overly long you'll soon realise as you and your beta readers go through the story.

Some writers like short chapters to give a quick sense of pace. Others like longer ones to slow down and raise tension. Interestingly you may find writers using short chapters at the start to get the reader engaged and then longer chapters later in the story as readers who get that far into the book are more interested in the story.
I think you should make chapters as long as they want to be.

But if they get too long, just be sure to put a warning at the beginning that would give some of us a chance to deploy a depends before we get entrenched.
It raises a question (with me at least) what is a chapter? If a chapter is just one scene then that easy enough to figure out. But if you use more than one scene/POV ina chapter, how do you know where it ends? Passage of time? Change of subject? Or convenient hook break, as @Glitch suggests? Or something else entirely.

As I said above, I think I usually stick with one scene, so mine are quite easy. But I still use intuition to know when the chapter/scene feels like it should end. How do we quantify it?
I'm not sure we can quantify it exactly. For me, I have an idea of what the focus on the chapter is, what part of the story it forms, and once that's achieved I move on. If that takes 800 words, so be it, if it takes 3000 okay.

And remember, they're optional - Terry Pratchett doesn't use chapters at all. :)
To my mind what matters more is constancy.

Chapters are natural breaks in the story telling, but what makes that break can vary from author to author. It might mean a passage of time; it might mean changing to a new characters point of view; it might mean changing to new selection of characters (oft the case when there are stories over different continents or realms etc...); another is when there's been a massive event, kind of like giving a little "mini" ending to things in the story - a natural point for readers to pause and digest what they just read.

You can also, of course, combine more than one as well. The key is that when the chapter break comes the reader has some idea of what to expect after having read part of the book.

Chapters also depend a lot on writing style, Terry Pratchett got away without ever using any chapters in Discworld books. The writing style was such that it flowed continually, but was also easy to put down and pick up. Something more weighty like Game of Thrones though just wouldn't work with such a structure. Indeed I would say the more casual the writing the less chapter structure is needed; whilst the more formal and lengthly the more they are needed. I think also for many writers (GRRM is a good example from his many discussions) like to write in chapters. They break the huge story down into chapters which makes it easier to plan what goes where - and sometimes move things around too if some are very self contained (very possible when one has multiple viewpoints on events that might be happening around the same time but very far apart - so chronological order isn't as important and the author can shift things about a bit)
After I have a plot and outline I often make a list of events / places in order, these often are the chapters and may not even be written sequentially. I suspect some mystery / detective stories the writer needs to write the start and end first.
Ray I think every author benefits greatly from writing the end earlier. By having an idea of where the story starts and finishes I think it helps pace and structure the middle. You can see when you've spent too long focusing on one area and the story hasn't advanced enough and you can use the idea of end details to adjust how things happen initially. That helps get the story going where you want it, but also allows the writer to build in lots of little links in the early parts that relate to the latter parts of the story.

You can see this greatly when an author writes a stand-alone book and then writes a sequel to it. Because many times they have not left any or many links in the first ready to be taken up in the second book; so they have to start all over again somewhat.

Similar threads